WHAT CAN I DO IF MY ATTORNEY ISN'T DOING THEIR JOB?
Feb. 25, 2021
When you hire a lawyer, and they agree to represent you legally, a mutual relationship is established. You both have the same shared goal: to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion to your legal matter.
In any attorney-client relationship, there are law-binding duties on both sides of the arrangement. Both parties can be expected to work together productively, conscientiously, and of course, professionally.
It's always your right to expect competent legal representation from your attorney, but some clients get stuck with an attorney who is not doing the best job on their case despite best intentions. There are several reasons why this might be.
If you're currently working with an attorney who isn't communicating well, or you believe to be incompetent or dishonest about some aspect of your case, then keep reading. In this article, I will share a few of the most common problems clients experience with attorneys and options to resolve the situation.
4 Common Problems Clients Experience With Attorneys
If you're considering firing your attorney or exploring options for legal action, you'll find that there are a few ways to go about this. First, I want to go over a few of the most common issues clients experience with their attorneys, and then we'll move on to solutions.
The Attorney Was Incompetent
If it seems like your attorney isn't doing their job well or suspect negligence may be at play, then you have every right to be concerned. After all, if your future recovery and financial well-being are on the line, the last thing you want is your own attorney to compromise your case's outcome.
Lack of Communication (Or No Communication At All)
Lack of communication may be the most common problem of all.
Despite modern technologies and the convenience of near-instant information transfer, clients continue to report issues around failure to return phone calls, emails, or text messages. In other examples, dialing the lawyer's phone number might result in a call with a paralegal or associate and not the actual lawyer you're partnered with.
Attorneys do have an ethical duty of communication, but there may not be a legitimate opportunity to file a formal complaint unless the situation is extreme.
According to the American Bar Association, the rules of communication for the attorney-client relationship are as follows:
(a) A lawyer shall:
promptly inform the client of any decision or circumstance with respect to which the client's informed consent, as defined in Rule 1.0(e), is required by these Rules;
reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client's objectives are to be accomplished;
keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter;
promptly comply with reasonable requests for information; and
consult with the client about any relevant limitation on the lawyer's conduct when the lawyer knows that the client expects assistance not permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.
(b) A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.
If your attorney is still not communicating via telephone, email, or otherwise, I recommend sending a formal certified letter to his office asking about the communication issues and explaining that you're prepared to find a new attorney to represent you if necessary.
Disclaimer: Attorneys are some of the busiest people you'll meet. But being busy is no excuse for poor communication or a lack of professionalism with a client. Sending a letter may prompt them into action and correct past poor behavior.
The Attorney Was Dishonest or Unethical
Honesty is one of the most critical ingredients in a client-attorney relationship. After all, your case's outcome in large part dependents on surfacing the truth of your legal situation.
Lying and dishonesty are inexcusable in any professional, and if you suspect your attorney has supplied false information, lied about something, or otherwise, then confront them immediately. If you're not satisfied with their response, you may want to file a formal complaint reporting bad behavior.
Every state has an official organization responsible for disciplining attorneys who violate their legal ethics contract. Organizations, including your local Bar Association or state Supreme Court, each have a structured process that allows you to file the formal complaint.
Examples of dishonest behavior could include:
Misuse of money
Depending on your specific situation and the respective details, several disciplinary actions might ensue, including suspension, censorship, or reprimanding or potentially disbarring the attorney from practicing law.
Indeed, unethical behaviors such as lying and dishonesty are common reasons for attorneys to be reprimanded and punished. Breaching the client-attorney confidentiality agreement is also grounds for legal recourse.
Billing Issues and Surprises
Like any professional who charges for their services by the hour, there will always be room for ambiguity surrounding billing details.
If you receive a legal bill that lacks detail about how your money is being spent, or if you believe your attorney has inflated the numbers on the account, do not pay the bill just yet. Make sure to compare your bill to the fine print in the initial fee agreement you and your attorney signed together at the beginning of your representation.
Ensure that there are no additional charges or fees listed on the bill that were not included in the initial agreement. If you suspect your current lawyer was misbehaving, do not pay them until the dispute has been settled. If you have a billing or fee dispute, bring this to your attorney's attention as soon as possible to get further details and an explanation about the problem.
Measures to Take if Your Attorney Isn't Doing Their Job
So far, we have covered four of the most common problems clients experience with attorneys around communication, incompetence, billing, and dishonesty.
Depending on your specific problem why you believe your attorney is not doing their job, there are numerous steps you can take to remedy the situation.
If you are still intent on firing your attorney, then continue reading. I will share a few options to change attorneys or pursue legal action against your current attorney if necessary.
If you're struggling to make it work with your lawyer but aren't sure if firing them is the best decision, you might consider working with a mediator.
Mediation is simply the process of seeking the help of a neutral third party to come in and help improve the client-attorney relationship. If communication is the issue, a trained mediator can come in and work to improve communications between both parties.
If you have tried mediation and your attorney is not doing their job, and you have decided you need to let them go and find someone else, there a few different ways you can go about this to seek new legal representation for your legal issues.
File a Legal Malpractice Claim
The standard route of disciplining an ineffective or incompetent lawyer is by filing a formal complaint.
As I mentioned earlier, every state has at least one agency that helps license and discipline lawyers. These agencies, perhaps the State Bar Association or the Supreme Court, are where you should go to file your complaint.
Keep in mind complaints should only be filed for blatant, unethical, or dishonest actions or behavior. Filing a disciplinary complaint against your lawyer is a serious matter. It would be best if you tried to resolve differences or disputes with your lawyer directly before escalating the issue to a formal complaint.
If you have experienced an issue with a large, unforeseeable bill, arbitration might be an option. Arbitration, like mediation, allows for an outside party to become a neutral decision-maker when conflict arises.
Regarding billing, finances, retainer issues, if you're considering arbitration as an option, make sure to check the original contract you signed with your attorney.
In many cases, contracts will include clauses that say whether the result of the arbitration process is binding or non-binding. In the case of a binding clause, you are giving up your right to challenge the arbitration results, matter the outcome.
If your arbitration clause is non-binding, either party may proceed and file a lawsuit and reject the arbitration outcome at no financial loss. Arbitration is a useful way to have a neutral third party intervene and consider your client-attorney relationship's details with a fresh perspective.
Fire Your Lawyer
Firing your lawyer is the last resort. But before you go this route, consider first retrieving your case file from the attorney and bringing it to someone for a second opinion on your case. If you have not yet settled and the new advising attorney thinks you're leaving money on the table, then consider firing your current attorney and hiring someone else to take over the legal work.
Keep in mind; switching layers can be an expensive ordeal. When you hire a new lawyer, you may have to pay a fee to bring him or her up to speed on your case's details and history.
It may be necessary to go one step further and file a lawsuit to sue your lawyer in some rare situations. If you're thinking of suing for legal malpractice, you should do so as soon as possible; the longer you wait, the more the defense may use your delay as evidence to weaken your case.
Work With an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney
If you've been in an accident because of someone else's negligence and you're wondering if you are partnered with a good lawyer or not, contact Bruscato Law Firm of Monroe, Louisiana, for legal advice on the matter.
John Bruscato, personal injury lawyer, and his dedicated staff are committed to working with you to make sure you get the best outcome in your case. John Bruscato is a professional in personal injury law; he knows how insurance companies work and understands the legal system inside and out. He has nearly a decade of experience representing car accident victims, workers' comp cases, wrongful death claims, and more. At the end of the day, only you can make the decisions about your case and who you decide on for representation.
Communication is essential, and if you have questions and concerns about a personal injury case, you owe it to yourself to make sure your voice is heard. You deserve an attorney who will fight for you and who you can trust. Call or visit us online to schedule a free consultation today to discuss your options and legal rights.