from: http://www.arizonarepublic.com/arizona/articles/0217action17.html

Look past facade when hiring attorney

By CALL 12

FOR ACTION
Rick DeBruhl
Feb. 17, 2003

Whitehead and Associates is in trouble.

The law firm that specialized in family issues closed its doors last November. The problem is that it still owes clients money for work that was never done.

One of those clients is Serena Green. She paid Whitehead more than $3,000 to help change child support payments she was getting. She charged the bill on her credit card. According to Serena, the only document Whitehead ever filed was her credit card charge.

Serena was wooed by the fancy ads and the big office. What Serena didn't do was contact the State Bar of Arizona to ask about the firm.

Arizona is one of only two states that allow people to learn about all grievances filed against an attorney.

Once you hire the attorney, contact the State Bar if you have problems. If you're upset because you don't think you got your money's worth, the State Bar has fee arbitration.

There is even hope for some of the clients owed money by Whitehead and Associates. The State Bar is planning to take strong disciplinary action very soon against the firm's owner. That should include a settlement for some of the clients.

If your lawyer goes out of business or skips town with your money, you have one last option. It's called the Client Protection Fund. Last year the fund paid out $200,000. It can pay up to $50,000 to a single client, but it's limited to $100,000 for clients of a single attorney.

It's not a perfect system. A national watchdog organization called HALT gives Arizona's system for disciplining lawyers a "C" grade. We do well with openness and fairness, but it says we need to work on public participation, promptness and adequacy of discipline.

The important thing is that the system will only work, and improve, if you use it. Before you fall for the pretty ads or the fancy office, call the State Bar.

Reach Call 12 for Action from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays at (602) 260-1212 or 1-866-260-1212.


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