“My lawyer won’t collect my judgment. What can I do?”
I got a message like this from one of our readers this week. I have
a few thoughts on the subject of how to collect a judgment when the
lawyer won’t collect it.
I have said it many times, lawyers, even good lawyers
usually do not enjoy collecting the judgments from the lawsuits
that they successfully litigate. It is very common to talk to people
who have experienced this very dilemma. They trusted their legal
situation to an attorney that they hoped would help them obtain
justice from their adversary. They were fortunate that the attorney
they chose prevailed with the court. The lawyer won the case for
them. So far so good. But wait, after a victory in court resulted
in a money judgment, little or nothing seems to be happening to
collect the money.
As time slips away, it appears that getting paid
what is due on the money judgment is only a dream. The reality of
having the judgment debtor get by without paying, is becoming more
and more clear.
This situation is not what was hoped for in the
beginning when the lawyer and the client agreed file the lawsuit.
If you have ever found yourself in a similar situation,
consider this. You agreed to pay your attorney on a fee basis with
the usual billing of hourly charges, or else the attorney agreed
to take your case on a contingency.
You would like to think that a lawsuit being paid
on a contingency means that the attorney is going to be as aggressive
in the collection phase of his job as he was in the litigation phase.
Believe it or not, there are times when this is not so.
If on the other hand your payments for the legal
work are not related to whether you win a money judgment or not,
your attorney has likely already been paid all or most of what he
expects to be paid by the time the judge awards you the money judgment.
Realistically the attorney may feel his job is complete. And in
fact it may be. You need to ask your lawyer to clarify whether his
services in your lawsuit are complete when the final judgment is
issued. Perhaps your attorney’s understanding is that the
job is complete at that point. In such a situation you need to wake
up and smell the baloney because your attorney is obviously not
a judgment attorney.
Another possibility is that your attorney may not
know how to collect a judgment.
If the attorney doesn’t think his job includes
collecting the money, then you need to make sure that the court
has released your attorney from being the attorney of record for
your lawsuit. You can ask your attorney to file papers with the
court to have himself removed as your attorney of record. You can
also ask your attorney to submit your own name as the substitute
attorney of record. As such you will then become your own legal
representative in the eyes of the court.
What if your attorney has not been aggressively
trying to collect your judgment for you, and if he does not intend
on removing himself as your attorney of record? In this situation
why not sit down with your lawyer and question him about what his/her
plans are to get the judgment debt satisfied for you. Stay aware
of each step that the attorney takes in pursuing the collection
of your judgment. Don’t be afraid to suggest strategies and
tactics for him to use.
Ask questions and expect straight answers. If you
don’t like what you are hearing from your lawyer, don’t
be timid about expressing your dissatisfaction.
If your lawyer is not doing his best job of getting
your judgment paid, it is your job to see that things change. If
your lawyer won’t do his job enforcing your judgment, enforce
your judgment yourself. This blog site contains much information
to help you learn how to collect a judgment.