What to do if Your Attorney Dies, Disappears, Becomes Disabled, or is Suspended or Disbarred
When a client is unable to contact an attorney for any reason Client’s valuable legal rights may be compromised. Therefore, it is important to: 1) obtain your file; 2) ascertain the status of the case, including any pending deadlines or court settings; and 3) hire new counsel if you are unable to locate your attorney. The following are suggestions that may assist you in protecting your rights and ensuring that your legal matter is handled appropriately.
1. Gather information regarding the location of your file
a. If the attorney disappears, first try to ascertain where/if s/he has relocated. To ascertain if the attorney has relocated:
- Contact the State Bar of Texas to determine if the attorney has provided new contact information;
- If not, contact the landlord of the building to determine if the attorney left a forwarding address; or
- Send a letter, certified mail return receipt requested, to determine if/where the letter is delivered (you may have to check the USPS website for the location of the delivery).
b. If the attorney becomes disabled or dies:
- Determine if another attorney has agreed to assume responsibility for contacting clients, returning files and/or assume the practice,
- Determine who is the executor or administrator of the estate, and/or
- Contact the building supervisor, landlord, or other tenants in the attorney’s office building.
c. If the attorney is suspended or disbarred:
- The attorney will generally be ordered to notify clients, and return files and unearned fees, but
- If the attorney does not notify you, then follow procedures suggested in other sections of this checklist.
2. If your efforts to locate your attorney have failed or your attorney has died, become disabled, or been suspended or disbarred, then you need to obtain new counsel immediately. Note the following:
a. If your legal matter includes a court case, your new attorney will need to file a Notice of Substitution of Counsel with the court.
b. If your legal matter is not in litigation, your new attorney will need to notify opposing attorneys and/or parties as appropriate.
c. You may lose legal rights if you delay in pursuing other possible remedies against the attorney. Contact another lawyer if you want to determine what other legal rights you may have.
3. Contact the court to determine if there are any pending court dates of which you are not aware and notify the court of the situation in writing.
a. You or your new attorney may need to request a continuance of any court settings.
4. Contact the building supervisor or landlord and retrieve your file from the attorney’s office.
a. The client owns the file. Therefore, you are entitled to receive your property if it is located in the attorney’s former office or if the landlord has possession of the file.
b. If you are unable to gain access to the file, obtain copies of all pleadings on file with the court.
5. If you believe your attorney engaged in illegal activity report the conduct to the proper authorities (police, county attorney, and/or district attorney) in the county where the conduct occurred.
a. Contact the Client-Attorney Assistance Program (CAAP) at (800) 932-1900 or (800) 204-2222, ext. 1790 to request their assistance.
6. File a grievance with the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel, State Bar of Texas, P.O. Box 12497, Austin, Texas 78711-2487. (Grievance forms are available on the State Bar of Texas website) or you may call 800.204.2222, ext. 1350.
7. How to obtain a refund of any unearned fees you may have paid the attorney.
a. If someone has been appointed or designated to sign checks on the attorney’s trust account, request unearned fees from that person.
b. If there is an administrator of executor, file a claim against the estate.
c. File a grievance with the Office of Chief Disciplinary Counsel, State Bar of Texas.
d. Based on the circumstances, you may be eligible for payment from Client Security Fund. Request a brochure describing eligibility and requirements from the State Bar of Texas in writing to P.O. Box 12487, Austin, Texas 78711-2497 or by calling 877-953-5535.
8. If you are unable to obtain your file or locate the attorney, you can file a Petition in district court in the county of the attorney’s residence to assume jurisdiction over the attorney’s law practice.
- Letter Advising that Lawyer Is No Longer Able to Practice Law: Closed File (refers to authorization for file to be destroyed)
- Letter Advising that Lawyer is No Longer Able to Practice Law: Active File (refers to authorization for file to be transferred)
- Request for File
- Authorization for Transfer of Client File
- Acknowledgment of Receipt of File
- Office Closure File Tracking Chart
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The information provided and the opinions expressed in this monograph are solely those of the author. Neither the State Bar of Texas nor the author are rendering legal, accounting or professional advice and assume no liability in connection with the suggestions, opinions, or products mentioned.