TERMINATE JOHN BALENT
AND DEMAND A REFUND OF THE
REMAINDER OF YOUR RETAINER
Terminate John Balent and demand a refund of the remaining portion of your retainer.
If John Balent is still your attorney of record, it's important that you take these steps to recover any balance:
1. If you do not already have a billing statement from John Balent, you should ask for a copy of your statement which John Balent is legally required to provide to you within 10 days of your request. Verify that there is at least one billable item on the bill, especially in case you have only recently hired him.
2. After you have received your bill and determined that you have a credit balance (as opposed to a balance owed), you then want to terminate John Balent's services in writing via certified mail and order him not to perform any further work on your case.
Be sure that you do it in this order as some clients have reported that they never get a bill until after they have fired him and believe he then "Creates" a bill that eats up the entire retainer and includes a balance over the retainer amount to intimate you into doing nothing because he might try to collect on that minimal balance.
3. At this point you want to demand a refund of the remaining portion of your retainer. John Balent will then likely claim to you that your retainer states that:
"No portion of retainer fee is ever refundable" and also that your "Retainer fee is paid to induce John A. Balent to become client's attorney and said fee is pad solely for the purpose of insuring the availability of the attorney for this matter."
DO NOT BE DISCOURAGED by John Balent's claims about what your retainer says.
John Balent is fully aware that that language should not be in his retainer and merely places it there to deceive you into believing you are contractually obligated by those terms. The fact is the language he uses refers to a practice rarely used today which refers to a "True Retainer" where a client is simply paying a flat fee to retain an attorney and not yet paying for any actual services by the attorney. Whereas John Balent deducts his fees from the funds you paid to him, which classifies his retainer as a "Classic Retainer". You can read about this in far greater detail by reviewing this Arbitration Advisory titled Enforcement of Non-Refundable Fee Provisions as provided by the California Bar Association website. In a nutshell, True Retainers and non-refundable, but Classic Retainers are required to be refunded any usued funds upon termination. BE SURE he has billed you for at least one item or he will claim that it's a "True Retainer" because nothing has been billed against it.
Despite the language in his retainer agreement he is REQUIRED to return any unused portion of your retainer after his employment has terminated per the Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 3-700(D). He is also required to turn over your client file if you request it.
Here is the specific langauge of Rule 3-700(D)
(D) Papers, Property, and Fees.
A member whose employment has terminated shall:
(1) Subject to any protective order or non-disclosure agreement, promptly release to the client, at the request of the client, all the client papers and property. "Client papers and property" includes correspondence, pleadings, deposition transcripts, exhibits, physical evidence, expert's reports, and other items reasonably necessary to the client's representation, whether the client has paid for them or not; and
(2) Promptly refund any part of a fee paid in advance that has not been earned. This provision is not applicable to a true retainer fee which is paid solely for the purpose of ensuring the availability of the member for the matter.
If Mr. Balent refuses to refund any unused portion of his retainer or refuses to turn over your file, you should immediately file a complaint with the California Bar Association for ethical misconduct.
Be sure you don't let the matter go and do nothing to recover your funds, even if it is only a small amount left on your account. John Balent gains financially when you do nothing. Taking Action including omplaining to regulartory authorities will protect others in the future.