How do I get my property back from a lawyer I fired?

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Question:

I requested my file from a lawyer over six months ago, shortly before firing him. I still have not received my case file, even after complaining to the state bar, which is investigating this lawyer on my charges and others, too. My file contains some original evidence I need now to pursue my case. What can I do?

Answer:

You may have to do something most people find distasteful: Sue the lawyer. It is likely -- but not guaranteed -- that when you file a lawsuit and have it served on the attorney, he will be prompted to voluntarily return your file.

You should sue for money damages  -- the expense of redoing work already done -- and request that the lawyer turn your file over to you at once. Depending on the expense of redoing the work, you may be able to sue in small claims court. For guidance on preparing and presenting your case, see Everybody's Guide to Small Claims Court (Nolo).

Or you can sue in regular civil court. You should be able to find a lawyer's form book in a law library that can show you how do this on your own. Or, check out Represent Yourself in Court: How to Prepare & Try a Winning Case (Nolo). (If you're in California, see Win Your Lawsuit: A Judge's Guide to Representing Yourself in California Superior Court (Nolo), written by a retired judge.)

If the attorney doesn't give you the file even after you sue, you will have to go to court and get a judgment stating you are entitled to it. If the lawyer still refuses to hand it over, you can give a copy of the judgment to the sheriff -- or constable or marshal, depending on your county -- who will go get the file for you.

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