A friend of mine substituted into a consumer bankruptcy case, taking over for another lawyer in the area. The original attorney couldn’t handle the esoteric mortgage litigation that was required to get the client what she needed, so he tagged someone with more experience.
So the litigation goes forward, my friend gets an excellent result for the debtor, and sanctioned by the court.
Wait … huh?
Yup, he got sanctioned. Seems as if the original attorney didn’t do some of the basic work on the underlying Chapter 7 case properly. Once the former attorney was out of the case, the judge had my innocent friend on the hook.
The original lawyer was sanctioned as well, but my friend was totally without blame because he had no part in the otherwise-routine portions of the Chapter 7 case. He stepped into the proverbial pile of crap. Thankfully, the sanction was small enough that it didn’t hurt too badly.
I’ve done similar things in the past, agreeing to litigate a discharge violation case only to find after the fact that the original lawyer had failed to properly list the debt. In those cases, I was able to bow out or change tactics before commencing litigation. Not so for my unfortunate buddy.
The lesson here is that you should always look at the entire case before you agree to substitute into it. Even if the original lawyer is a respected member of the bar and a trusted colleague. Even if you step in because the judge asks you to do so.
Remember, at the end of the case it’s your neck on the line.