Legal clients deserve proper legal representation. How do you know you’re receiving it? What can you do if your attorney is causing you problems? What if your attorney is just not right for you or your case?
Is Your Attorney Really Not Right?
Lawsuits are complex. Despite your lawyer’s best efforts, much can go wrong with a case, and not all snafus are avoidable.
Communication is important. If you have a concern, it is never a bad idea to broach the subject with your attorney to see if you can come to an understanding. Maybe, after listening to your concerns, your attorney will acknowledge a mistake and change course. Or, the opposite might happen, and you could learn something new. Many problems can be solved simply by talking them over.
Attorneys Can Be Fired
That said, sometimes your intuitions are correct. And when this is the case, you have every right to fire your attorney for any reason and at any time: before a lawsuit has been filed, during the pretrial period, or even during the trial itself (although you may need the court’s permission for this). Even if you signed a fee arrangement with your attorney, you will typically be able to cancel it.
To fire an attorney, you should put it in writing, and send the written letter to your attorney informing them that they are fired. You should have a new attorney before you fire the old one, otherwise, there may be a difficult gap in representation.
Of course, firing an attorney has some drawbacks: you will have to pay your old attorney the fees you owed them up until that point, and if your new attorney must do extra work to catch up on your case, you may have to pay for that also.
Switching attorneys midstream could potentially hurt your case, so you should be sure it is the right course of action before doing so.
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Getting a Second Opinion
If you’re not ready to fire your lawyer, but you have some concerns they may not be doing all they could, you are also free to seek a second opinion from another lawyer at any time.
This is easy to do. Consultations are usually free, and even when they aren’t, it’s often well worth the price for a completely new perspective on your case.
Filing an Ethics Complaint
If your attorney has done something truly unethical, like stolen your money, then you might want to file a complaint with the state bar association.
Lawyers are held to strict rules of professional conduct, and can face a variety of punishments, up to and including disbarment (losing their license to practice law) for violating them. In addition, lawyers are subject to all the same laws that apply to you or anyone else, and may face criminal prosecution if they have broken the law.
Filing a Malpractice Lawsuit
Attorneys, like all other professionals, have an inherent legal duty to provide a reasonable level of service to clients; the sort of service that any other competent attorney would offer, under the same circumstances. If they fail to provide this, and it has a tangible effect on your case, then you may sue your attorney for legal malpractice.
To win a malpractice lawsuit, you must prove that the attorney committed a breach of their duty, and that the breach caused you harm. These points can be hard to prove, but if you win a malpractice lawsuit, you will be eligible to receive damages for the amount you lost because of their breach of duty.
How Will I Know My Attorney Is Not Right for Me?
Signs of a Bad Attorney
There are a few signs that might signal it’s time for a new attorney.
Violation of confidentiality and/or attorney-client privilege: Your attorney has the duty to keep your personal information private, both in and out of court, even if you have committed a crime or civil violation.
Conflict of interest: Your attorney may not have a personal interest in your case that impedes their ability to provide you with the proper legal representation in court. For instance, a personal or business connection to the people on the other side of the case.
Financial impropriety: You have the right to know where your money is going, and to ensure that you are only being charged for services you agreed to pay for.
Incompetence: If you have a valid legal case, you shouldn’t settle for second best.
Communication is Essential
Of all the complaints clients have about attorneys, the most common is communication. Clients often feel that their attorneys don’t do a good enough job of returning their calls, addressing their concerns, or telling them what is going on with the case.
As a client, you have every right to expect that your attorney will respond to your calls and regularly communicate with you to let you know how your case is advancing, and of course to hear your input.
The American Bar Association agrees says, “A lawyer must be able to communicate effectively with a client. When a client asks for an explanation, the lawyer must provide it within a reasonable time. A lawyer must inform a client about changes in a case caused by time and circumstances.”
Every firm is different.
At Torklaw, we know that client communication is paramount, and so we place a strong emphasis on being in contact with our clients regularly. We provide regular status updates to clients, and if they call us, we call back the same day. More importantly, we treat each client as a unique person with a unique situation.
Whatever your case, we hope you choose the best attorney for you. If you feel your attorney is not right for your case, do not hesitate to consider alternatives.