Your Attorney Isn’t Returning Your Calls? Here’s What to Do

Chapter 52 in The Placement Strategy Handbook is entitled “How to Select an Attorney.” Still, we receive many calls from placers ranging from inquiries to insurrection about the way an attorney is handling a case. This doesn’t mean the clients are right. But it does mean the attorney-client relationship has been damaged.

This PTL shows you the four ways to get your attorney’s attention, so you can try to repair it:

1. Call Your Attorney

I know what you’re thinking. And you may be right. But give him a chance. Leave your office number and an after-hours number.

Almost half of those who call either don’t leave a message or say something like, “He has my number.” The best attorneys are always busy. We’re in court, in depositions, meeting with clients and witnesses, or otherwise unable to call back. It’s impossible to memorize or keep a personal list of everyone’s number. A concise message and a call-back number gets your call answered before your lawyer gets into the office and is bombarded by everyone else.

There’s a perception that the number of messages somehow relates to the speed of the response. If anything, it slows down the ability to return calls promptly, since the attorney must wade through a message mess. “Urgent” messages are likely to result in an annoyed response, since they’re often returned when the attorney is preoccupied with another matter. Remember, you’re just trying to get your attorney’s attention, not to alienate her.

Keep track of:

  • The date and time of the message.
  • The name of the person who took the message.
  • The date and time the call is returned.

We operate on a same-day call-return schedule (no later than the following morning to callers in a later time zone). It can be done, even with dozens of calls. Insist on it. But only if you’ve followed these suggestions.

2. Don’t Overreact

Lawyers live in a world of overreaction. It’s a confrontive, combative, often antagonistic environment that clients rarely see. When you start the conversation with, “I’m honored that you decided to return my call,” or, “Why haven’t you collected my fee?” expect the instincts of a professional fighter to take over. You’ll get attention, but you won’t keep it.

Lawyers are trained in logic. They respond to objective, well-reasoned, unemotional statements. If you begin with, “It sounds like you’ve been busy,” or “Is there anything I can do to expedite collection of the fee?” you’ll be encouraging a dialogue, not two monologues.

The most frequent complaint about attorneys is their failure to prosecute cases vigorously enough. The reason was best stated by Chester Smith when he was president of the American Bar Association:

Even the best lawyers are usually truly competent and proficient in only a few areas of the law.

Being authorized to practice and being qualified are two different things. Lawyers [like placers] never know where their next fee is coming from. So they tend to accept every case, hoping there’s time to figure it out later. The problem isn’t just that case. It’s the other cases in the office that also won’t receive the attention they deserve.

This is why I commented once in an interview with The Fordyce Letter:

We know that every case is not a winner. An army of marching attorneys can’t help some clients. The key is to be able to focus on the relevant law and facts immediately, so you don’t waste the client’s money and your time.

If the attorney isn’t prosecuting your case, this probably wasn’t done.

You can help. Maybe it’s a call to a former candidate to find out if he discussed your fee before being hired. Or drafting a demand letter to the employer for your lawyer, so it looks like you spent three hours discussing the facts. Or tracking down the clients one of your ex-recruiters has been contacting. There’s always something you can do to help, even if it’s just communicating with witnesses.

I really work with our clients, and they don’t mind it a bit. Just like they don’t mind after-hours calls. Sometimes it’s necessary for you to volunteer. You’ll be surprised how receptive your attorney is to your assistance.

Believe it or not, the amount of attorney’s fees is usually not a major complaint. In a primer for lawyers, How to Start and Build a Law Practice, Jay Foonberg echoes our experience:

Most people who seek the services of a lawyer expect to pay. A responsible client will not start litigation he can’t afford if he knows that you will have to stop work if he doesn’t pay the fee as agreed.

But if the fee is a problem, you’re entitled to an explanation. Law is a profession that requires investigation, research, analysis, correspondence, preparation of complicated documents, asking for other professional opinions, evaluation, and waiting for hours in remote courtrooms for hearings that can take minutes. Clients are usually not present. Hourly fees mount fast.

I use percentage contingency fees for collections and fixed fees for almost everything else. If your attorney knows the area of law, even fees in trade secrets cases can be predicted accurately. Push for numbers regardless of whether you did at the beginning. Then you should be able to avoid this problem in the future.

3.  Follow Up With a Letter

You don’t have to write the Gettysburg Address. Just confirm the status of the case, fee or whatever else was discussed. State the next step that must be done, who is going to do it, and when it will be completed.

Save your sarcasm. You’re on the same side. Just write a friendly letter that reads something like:

“I was pleased to discuss the status of the ________ case with you today.  Pursuant to our discussion, the following is to be done:

Conclude with:

Please let me know as further developments arise.

Thank you for your assistance.”

Business attorneys live in a world of documentation too. When a letter is delivered, it’s as though a flag just went up the pole. They stand at attention and salute automatically. This is the impact you want in a busy, fire-fighting, crisis-laden law office. (Email is not secure and should be avoided for attorney-client communication. It also has much less impact on the recipient.)

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In How to Go Directly into Your Own Solo Law Practice and Succeed, Gerald Singer said it all:

Some pretty reliable indications of a busy office are things like assistants frantically running around, others working at computers, phones constantly ringing, filing cabinets with trays full of case files nearby waiting to be filed, and at least a few clients waiting out in the reception room.

Other sure signs of success are bottles here and there of Gelusil or Mylanta on the partners’ desks. If they are near empty, so much the better. Of course, if you see an oxygen tank over in the corner, that should be a clincher.

We could philosophize about the attorney being responsible to notify a client about the status of cases. But that’s like holding a recruiter responsible to notify a client about the status of searches. The more attentive ones do it, but they’re not necessarily the more successful ones.

So don’t stand on ceremony. Unless of course it’s the raising of the flag.

4. Let The Attorney Know You’ll Find Another

For sure, successful lawyers (like successful recruiters) have strong egos. The idea that a client would consider going to someone else is impossible for them to accept. So even though it’s a killer, it’s a sure-fire attention-getter. In fact, it’s so reliable that if the attorney doesn’t respond, you’re probably better off with another.

While you can dismiss an attorney whenever you choose, this is obviously the last resort. Time and money can be lost in the transfer, and many lawyers refuse to accept cases that have been handled by others.

In contingency fee cases, the fee may still be due upon recovery by the new attorney unless you can show good cause for the dismissal. Good cause usually involves a serious mishandling of the case or the client, including:

  • Doing nothing to prosecute or defend the case.
  • Failing to give competent advice to the client.
  • Dealing dishonestly with the client or an adversary.

If money is due, an attorney’s lien may be placed on funds or documents until it is paid.

Lawyers: A Client’s Manual by Joseph McGinn tells the steps to use if you’ve reached the point of no return:

  1. Tell your lawyer directly and give your reasons.
  2. Send your lawyer a letter of dismissal and retain a copy.
  3. Arrange to pay any outstanding charges.
  4. Pick up the file as soon as possible.
  5. Select another lawyer.

Of course, there are always bar association complaints, malpractice claims and civil lawsuits. But most clients just want the negativism and disruption out of their lives.

Litigation is a slow, complicated, unpredictable, expensive process. To the extent your lawyer can expedite, simplify, win, and reduce the fees, he’s the one for you.

I hope you don’t need to get the attention of your attorney. But if you do, this should help.

Good luck!






More than thirty-five years ago, Jeffrey G. Allen, J.D., C.P.C. turned a decade of recruiting and human resources management into the legal specialty of placement law. Since 1975, Jeff has collected more placement fees, litigated more trade secrets cases, and assisted more placement practitioners than anyone else. From individuals to multinational corporations in every phase of staffing, his name is synonymous with competent legal representation. Jeff holds four certifications in placement and is the author of 24 popular books in the career field, including bestsellers How to Turn an Interview into a Job, The Complete Q&A Job Interview Book and the revolutionary Instant Interviews. As the world?s leading placement lawyer, Jeff?s experience includes: Thirty-five years of law practice specializing in representation of staffing businesses and practitioners; Author of ?The Allen Law?--the only placement information trade secrets law in the United States; Expert witness on employment and placement matters; Recruiter and staffing service office manager; Human resources manager for major employers; Certified Personnel Consultant, Certified Placement Counselor, Certified Employment Specialist and Certified Search Specialist designations; Cofounder of the national Certified Search Specialist program; Special Advisor to the American Employment Association; General Counsel to the California Association of Personnel Consultants (honorary lifetime membership conferred); Founder and Director of the National Placement Law Center; Recipient of the Staffing Industry Lifetime Achievement Award; Advisor to national, regional and state trade associations on legal, ethics and legislative matters; Author of The Placement Strategy Handbook, Placement Management, The National Placement Law Center Fee Collection Guide and The Best of Jeff Allen, published by Search Research Institute exclusively for the staffing industry; and Producer of the EMPLAW Audio Series on employment law matters. Email him at


20 Comments on “Your Attorney Isn’t Returning Your Calls? Here’s What to Do

  1. I have tried emails, text messages, I even have him on Facebook and messaged him when he was online and no response. He works on his own so no superiors to go to to complain.I am thinking of just showing up at his office and sitting there waiting for him if he doesn’t respond within the next 24 hours. I will have to miss a day’s work but it is infuriating when people you have hired just ignore you.

      1. He finally showed up and not a single apology. Just rude and unprofessional.Said he was “very busy”. Since then he stood me up twice. UGH

  2. My attorney ended up being paid about $500 more than we had been told about. When things have come up that we needed to get advice about – never received a call back. This was after we had paid several thousand for their help. Very disappointed. I don’t need calls every week, but when there is an important question, I expect to get a response.

  3. Yes, have been trying all of the above for two months with no return call. Can’t even get past the voicemail. Have emailed with no response. No work has been done on my case (per the last email I actually got a response to 3 months ago) so I have asked for a return call within 24 hours or I’ll file a formal complaint. That was the last route I wanted to go but after paying 6 months ago and getting nothing in return to me this has turned into a situation where I paid for a service and received nothing in return.

    1. send an email notifying him/her that you may be looking to have another lawyer take over your file and then let him know your intention to tax his/her account.

  4. THe only solution to this endemic problem with attorneys is for everyone to go PRO SE and cut these parasites out of society. The movement will start with PRO SE litigants such as myself irritating the shit out of opposing counsel and judges by slowing down their days with less that “lawerly” filings, pleadings, motions, adherence to court procedure, etc. It’s time to take the legal system back to simple precepts that average lay people can understand and utilize themselves, without having to use an attorney for every action a person takes and every decision a person makes in this burdensome life.

  5. Spoken like a true lawyer. It’s always the clients’ fault. Lawyers are greedy bloodsuckers who are trained to not care about their clients’ feelings enough to return a simple phone call or email. My divorce became a nightmare when I hired an attorney. Every month that went by drove me closer to financial ruin. A year went by and nothing was resolved. I got the home because she moved out, but I also got all the bills. She lived with her parents and saved money. My lawyer, he never returned a call or text or email. Now, well into year two, I feel I’ve spent enough money on nothing and am ready to throw in the towel just to end it. I hate to let her win like that but folks, at some point you must realize your lawyer has only one goal…to drag things out until you have no more to give, then they hope you fire them and move on. What an evil profession.

  6. I could use advice, I paid an attorney to do an indepth full title search since the land has a park trail on it, paid in full. I told him once this was done Ild be paying for title work as well and agreed on a price. He said give him 3 days. Week later other party backs out and states, “willing to sell a partial.” attorney did call said he knew someone to do survey. I never heard back and left 3 messages over the weeks for him to call anytime. He seems to have tried to jump straight to title work and never did the deed search to see restrictions. He will not respond, what is the next step, just let the guy commit fraud, keep my money and not do what hes paid for? I humbly ask for help, I dont need to go back to jail like my old days for handling this the old fashion way, but as a disabled veteran thats 100% disabled and lost everything, I have a very hard time being beaten like this and doing nothing.

  7. My son retained an attorney 17 months ago, to obtain visitation with his daughter. She and her mother had moved out of our area 200 miles away, and is generally a hateful person and having a new boyfriend, decided to cut off all visitation. They were not married, my husband and I and our son, were very involved in raising this child, she is now 8. The attorney obtained a temporary parenting plan, and for the most part we have had her only for the first weekend of each month, for the past year, though I think 3 different times they didn’t happen because the mother filed 3 different bogus restraining orders against my son, which were dropped, however, he still missed out on seeing her that month. The very ambiguous temporary plan wsn’t specific re Thanksgiving this year, so he didn’t see her then either. He has paid out over $5000.00, and we’ve had a proposed parenting plan ready to go before the judge for 6 months now, yet the attorney keeps putting it off, and in the meantime our 8 year old grand-daughter is missing out on a lot with her father and our whole family. We miss her terribly and worry for her emotional health. Our sons attorney has told us that he and the childs mother need to do mediation with a court appoint or herself. If they could work out a parenting plan, we wouldn’t have needed an attorney! He has cooperated fully and promptly paid all fees, and for what? The visitation he is asking for is well within the counties guidelines Now the attorney isn’t returning phone calls or answering any emails.We have a hard time believing mediation for the 2 parents is necessary, he can’t afford to start from scratch with a new attorney, and just wants this to be over. It’s been nearly 1 1/2 years. He is getting the run around, and the attorney is 200 miles away also, so walking into her office isn’t easy. He was told by a legal source that since the child had relocated to a different county over 6 months previous (nearly 8 months I believe) he needed to hire an attorney in the county the child resides in. Never understood that. I’m trying to find out answers to questions such as: If my son dropped his attorney and tried to finish this pro se, would he have to start from square 1 with all new forms and steps needing taken, or is this all within the courts as opposed to the attorney? (Such as the hand-written temporary visitation plan, would that still be effective)? Is mediation truly a necessary step, it’s hard to believe since he has an attorney “representing” him. What is a reasonable amount of time to expect this process to be finalized? He needs to know who he can talk to who is objective that can answer these questions. An attorney won’t, as we’ve tried, and since we aren’t (at this point anyway) considering hiring a new one, I guess it’s a waste of their time. Does anyone know where we might turn for some answer? There must be an objective source trained in the law to answer these question. We are all so frustrated to put it mildly. This has been quite expensive, and has caused quite a lot of mental anguish for us, and for our grand-daughter. Thanks.

  8. I strongly believe that a law society should not investigate its members. it acts in biased to protect the integrity of its mandate to regulate the profession. most if not all lawyers prunes to lie at all cost. They sell their clients to the highest bidder and do exchange clients files with opponents, it is standard practice among lawyers world wide. They pretend to be the Devil advocates and give you what you want to hear, that is only until they cash your retainer, but in fact, lawyers work for self interest, and their interest always comes before their clients interest, this is a well known fact. Speaking of the devils, Judges were former lawyers, do not expect a miracle from the justice system. Judges are prune to take one side with their favorite lawyers who provide them a brown paper bag to keep the legal business going. I do not have trust in the justice system. I have dealt with 12 lawyers in my 30 years, there are not enough papers on this earth available to write my stories about their unethical practice and the justice system corruptions. Trust your intuition and represent yourself by educating yourself about the law. Act aggressive and demand for any judge to recuse him / her from residing on your case if you sense there is conflict of interest with the opponent. The court floor is yours and not the judges. Fire your lawyer if you sense he is dishonest and tax his account. let him or her know they are bad lawyers. Do not get revenge from unqualified lawyers but get even.

  9. lawyers intelligent are overrated and they are more fearful to loose their practice license if you complaint against them. 78 percent of lawyers are divorced or cheating on their wives. Their legal fees do not justify their made up billing statement, most of them are addicted to alcohol. it is very hard for any lawyer to know the difference between what is the truth from a an actual lie, their only target is how much they can cash out by the day end. Most lawyers do marry accountants for one reason to hide their real income. just imagine how much we can do better if we abolish the so called justice system

  10. Don’t lawyers have an ethical duty to at least let you know what is going on? No response in 2 months seems a bit odd.

  11. my lawyer not only doesnt return my calls, but does not respond to e-mails either.oftentimes i think she is playing footsie with the opposing attorney.

  12. Let’s be honest, good attorneys are hard to come by. When an attorney or lawyer isn’t responding to your phone calls, then you immediately have to question their level of professionality. I mean, seriously, you’re paying hundreds and they’re not responding?

    I’ve found attorneys/lawyers who’ve been recruited via recruitment companies have been WAY better than others recruited via different means, maybe recruitment companies are more picky? I was reading about lawyers and how they’re recruited and read an article explaining how good recruitment companies are struggling: Could this be because of lawyers? … God knows.

  13. With an unresponsive lawyer, I sent an email entitled, “Has this email been received?”

    My previous email hadn’t received a response after a month’s time.

    In the 2nd email, I added, “At some point, we need to talk about your poor response time and your poor document review (in particular, your review of the first interrogatories and of the invalid QDRO). Both have cost me time (my hourly rate is higher than yours, by the way), and the extra wasted or unnecessary time I expended far exceeds what you put into my case as well as additional costs/additional bank fees, etc.”

    For the first time, I received a response in less than 24 hours, along with excuses and some CYA.

    I would have demanded my fees back or sued her, except that she put an attorney on my case without consulting me who had been hired be their firm after my case started whose daughter played with my daughter. As a single father, I didn’t want to start a war on a different front.

    Unfortunately, the time to fire your lawyer is the same time that the lawyer should fire the client – before the case starts, or after it is over.

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