Why I fired my DOE (oops!) NYSUT Lawyer...
At our first meeting, I clearly requested an "Open and Public" hearing so that my lawyer could give notice to the arbitrator and DOE lawyer. I followed up on this request with an email asking for confirmation.
By our fourth meeting, I noted that my lawyer had still not solidified my request with the hearing officer and asked her why.
I said, "I sense that you don't want me to have and open and public hearing." "Well, she said, "You sensed right". She then proceeded to paint an ugly picture of an out of control hearing room filled with unruly reporters and friends of the Principal. "If you have an open hearing, the Principal can bring in anyone he wants to. Anyone. That may not be in your best interest. You never know who he might bring in". And, "Do you really want the press distorting your story the way they have done with other cases?"
Armed with the confidence that somehow, "The truth will set me free", I still insisted on an open and public hearing despite the obvious dismay of my lawyer.
I could only reach my NYSUT lawyer through the NYSUT office, that is... when it was open, which meant that I had to call when the office was open, even just to leave a message. The recording said that if you know the '3 digit code' of the person you are trying to reach, please enter it now. As a client, I asked my lawyer for her 3 digit code. Her response was, "Uh, what do you need it for? Has there been a gap in our communication?" "Yes,as a matter of fact. I called you five days ago and this is the first time you have returned my call." "Well...Is there a problem with that? I am very busy."(doesn't want to be bothered)"Yes, there are times when I would like to be able to leave you a message." Her response was, "I think that we've been emailing just fine, don't you?" "No". (Obviously I wouldn't be asking for your code if I was able to reach you, idiot).
After several months of sending emails with scant response from my lawyer,I was beginning to get nervous. When she called me on a Sunday night at 10pm on the last day of spring break, I asked her again for an alternative number. Again, she refused to give me one. Her excuse was that she'd had trouble in the past with clients(teachers) calling her at all hours of the night and had reservations about ever giving out her cell phone number to a teacher again...(I wondered if that reservation included calling her clients on a Sunday night at 10pm.)
When I asked what concerns she had, she responded that she'd rather not divulge that information, and... "Is this the reason you called me?- to pick a fight?"
My paranoid NYSUT lawyer wouldn't allow anyone to sit in on my meetings with her. I found it unusual that I couldn't be accompanied by someone, anyone of my own choosing. Her reason was that she had not established 'confidentiality' with that person. (They were my support system stupid, not yours.)
Before our third meeting, I asked my lawyer why
she wouldn't allow me to bring someone in with me for support. Her response was that she didn't feel 'comfortable'. I said that, "It's not about 'you' feeling comfortable. I am the client. This is my case. I am choosing to bring this person in. I trust this person". As a client, I should be able to bring in anyone that I want. (Shouldn't I?) Her response was, "Well, what do you know about lawyers? How much experience have you had with lawyers anyway?"
Does this sound professional to you?
It started to become very clear to me that my DOE-(oops!)NYSUT lawyer was not working in my best interest when she divulged private information to my Chapter Leader without my permission. It seemed that she- my lawyer, needed assurance that the events I had described to her actually occurred the way that I described them. Who was breaching client-lawyer confidentiality now?
My NYSUT lawyer was completely overwhelmed with too many cases and it was adversely affecting the preparation of my hearing. As the amount of documents that I submitted to her grew, so did her disorganization. Each time that I met with her, it was like starting from square one. As we were going through the documents I had submitted to her at previous meetings, I came across one that didn't seem familiar. As I began to read it aloud, her response was, "Oh that's not yours", grabbing it out of my hand. "I was wondering where that document was! I don't know how that paper got in there". That document, that 'confidential document', was from another teacher's case that she was working on. I began to wonder how many of my documents had been mixed up or 'fallen' somewhere that they shouldn't be... And she was the one concerned about "confidentiality?".
It was obvious that my lawyer had her own set of rules which she felt didn't apply to her. I had no confidence that she was working for me and not the DOE or some other ultimate plan. Three weeks before my hearing, I fired my DOE-oops! 'NYSUT' lawyer and hired a private one. I believe that it was the best decision that I have ever made. There was no doubt that the new lawyer had the experience and knowledge that the NYSUT lawyer was clearly lacking. He was one step ahead of the DOE and UFT's tricks which I believe included assigning me a ridiculous and severely inept NYSUT lawyer.