What I, The Client, Learned When My Lawyer Shit The Bed

A few months back, maybe November, or maybe December, I was limping my then-dying Civic to work. My tags had expired, but since my car was running on three cylinders and coughing up more oil than exhaust, a smog check wasn’t happening that week — I was riding dirty, in other pun-alicious words. Cop pulls me over, gives me a fix-it ticket, etc. No big deal — it happens.

I go to pay the ticket online. OC Pay’s website doesn’t recognize the ticket number — says to call. I call, and the robo-machine doesn’t recognize the ticket either — says to go online. I tried to escape that impossible loop by calling every number for the Orange County courts system that I could find, but in the rare instance that a human answered, they replied that they were unable to provide a phone number for the traffic ticket department.

DIY Law Fails

Alright. I’m a lawyer. So I wrote a letter and attached exhibits (a screenshot of the error message online). I requested the full extensions allowable by law and instead got only 30 days. An engine rebuild, which was necessary to pass smog and get my long-since-paid-for tags, of course took longer than that, so I ended up with a threatening letter from the DMV that said “pay $680 or lose your license.”

Shit. And the court was only open 8am to 4pm in Fullerton (more than an hour away with typical traffic).

A Lawyer’s Traffic Ticket Lawyer and a DMV Nightmare

Not wanting to miss work for a stupid traffic matter, I hired a traffic ticket lawyer. And he assured me that this was no big deal and he’d take care of it the next day. And he did! The following afternoon, he called and said that I now had another 30 days to show proof of correction. However, the OC Courts still wanted the late/collection fee, which was bullshit since their website wouldn’t allow me to pay, but whatever — $350 plus $100 to the lawyer beat $680.

I then ran into the DMV nightmare from hell. My engine was finally running, so I got my smog check done. Apparently, that triggers the DMV automatically and they mail your registration and sticker. Unfortunately, I moved a few months ago, so that sticker went nowhere. (Apparently DMV mail isn’t forwarded via Change of Address and is instead returned and destroyed.) And one has to wait 30 days to ask for a new copy. Long story short, after four trips to the AAA and/or DMV, I finally got a copy — with two days to spare.

They Score! No Wait, They Fumble!

Registration in hand, I emailed the lawyer and asked if they could take it to the court, as his assistant had previously offered to do so. I also asked if they needed the money for the ticket then or if OC would bill me later.

The lawyer’s assistant emailed me back and said that they would drop it off for me.

I asked again about paying the ticket. No response.

My lawyer then goes, on deadline day, to file the proof of correction. They refuse to take it unless he had payment for the ticket itself, which he didn’t since his assistant ignored my multiple questions. And instead of calling his assistant and having her run my card, then perhaps paying it with my funds in trust, he just called me and basically said that I was on my own … with two hours till court closure time.

A Terminated Evangelist

After the first interaction with the lawyer, I was a happy, satisfied client. He turned a $680 ticket into a $450 expense, including his fees. I was ready to evangelize — Yelp and Avvo reviews, an Avvo lawyer endorsement, etc., as he took a major stressor in my life and took care of it. I probably could have handled a ticket myself, but I didn’t have time — which made him worth the $100.

Now? After botching the proof of correction process (a mistake that is even more absurd considering he’s a very experienced traffic ticket lawyer) and making me go, last second, on a three-hour sojourn? I think he’s a nice guy who doesn’t know what he is doing. I think his office is disorganized and his assistant may not be the brightest bulb.

What’s the lesson for lawyers? You’re only as popular as your last interaction with a client. You can get them full custody at a hearing, but if you underperform at trial, they will hate you. I was ready to drive business — I referred one friend so far, with another ready to call him, and was even about to write online reviews talking about how he’s totally worth the money. Now? I’m not pissed enough to rage on Yelp or Avvo, but he’s lost a referral source (lawyers in other practice areas are always a great referral source) and online word-of-mouth (getting positive client reviews is almost as hard as getting clients to pay their last bill).

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