Lawyers, even the best ones, often do not enjoy collecting judgments resulting from the lawsuits that they have successfully litigated. What options do you have when your lawyer cannot or will not collect your judgment? The simple answer is to find another lawyer, because there are many sharp lawyers that recover judgments. My articles are my opinions, and not legal advice. I am a Judgment Broker, and am not a lawyer. If you ever need any legal advice or a strategy to use, please contact a lawyer.
What often happens, is someone hires a great attorney that wins their lawsuit, and then their lawyer says “we won, congratulations!” However, after the court victory, little or nothing seems to happen toward collecting their judgment money. As time goes by, it seems that getting paid what is due on their money judgment is just a dream.
Usually, when hiring a lawyer to recover a judgment, one must pay them their retainer, all expenses, and then pay by the hour. When a judgment debtor seems wealthy, or an attorney gets to keep most of what is recovered, attorneys may agree to take judgment recovery cases on a contingency basis.
Ideally, your attorney will be as aggressive collecting your judgment as they were winning it, yet this does not always happen. Worse yet, if you suddenly “fire” your contingency lawyer, you might owe them a lot of money because of Quantum Merit (sometimes spelled Meruit) contract clauses. This clause is in the retainer agreements of most contingency collection lawyers, where they get paid for the work they did, if you insist on firing them.
If you paid your lawyer by the hour to win your lawsuit, after the judgment is won, your lawyer will probably think their job is complete, and usually it will be, as per your contract with them. Either you will have to pay them more per hour, to have them try to enforce your judgment, or hope they will work on a contingency basis to recover your judgment. Perhaps your attorney simply does not know how to collect your judgment, or they just prefer not to.
When your attorney is done, and is no longer working on your lawsuit after it has been converted into a judgment, it is a good idea to check with the court and see whether your attorney has already released themselves as the attorney of record for your judgment. If not, ask your attorney to file papers with the court, to have themselves removed as the attorney of record for your judgment. When this is done, you will then be the legal owner and the sole representative for your judgment, and can do with it what circumstances allow.
What if you have hired an attorney and they are not aggressively trying to collect your judgment for you? If you have retained an attorney to recover your judgment and they are not making progress, ask them about it, at least once a year. Email is great. Do not ask more often than three times a year, as judgment recovery is often similar to a long-term chess game. There may be very logical reasons why no real progress has been made, especially in our current economy. If you have any ideas about some possible assets of your judgment debtor, or ways of possibly recovering the judgment money, share them with your lawyer. In many states, the rules of professional conduct require attorneys to put their client’s interests ahead of their own.
What if you are dissatisfied with the answers you hear from your lawyer, or the results so far? Remember, if the judgment debtor is really poor or has too cleverly hidden their assets, it is not the lawyer’s or any other recovery expert’s fault that a recovery has not been made. If you have been paying your lawyer by the hour, and especially if you are current and do not owe them any money from past invoices, this is easy; just tell them you wish them to stop working on your judgment and remove themselves as the attorney of record.
If your attorney is working on a contingency basis, choosing to fire them is usually much more complicated. You might owe them money because of quantum merit clauses in retainer agreements, where the lawyer gets paid get for the work they did before you fired them. Perhaps you can reach a compromise for what you owe them on their quantum merit clause.
If your lawyer is not trying to get your judgment paid; you can probably find another lawyer, recovery expert, or company, to try to recover your judgment. There are many good lawyers that are experts at recovering judgments. Judgment brokers can steer you to the best contingency lawyers, recovery experts, and judgment buyers. Note that judgments never sell for cash upfront for very much.