As anyone who has had any hands-on experience with the law can tell you, the relationship between an attorney and client is rarely a simple or straightforward one in practice.
Both parties in the attorney-client relationship share the common goal of winning a particular case. However, there are all sorts of complications that can arise between clients and attorneys, and while many of these complications can be resolved, in some cases they are insurmountable.
If you are a client, you deserve proper legal representation. There are all sorts of circumstances that may arise in your life which could cause you to need the services of an attorney, so it is important to know what to look for.
In this article, we will try to address this problem. We will talk a bit about what can be done if your attorney is causing you problems, and how to tell whether this is the case.
Is Your Attorney Really Not Right?
First, we would like to offer a caution: not every snag is the fault of the attorney.
Lawsuits are very complex. Despite your lawyer’s best efforts, all sorts of things can go wrong with a case, and not all of these snafus are a sign of incompetence on their part. Some are simply unavoidable.
However disappointed you may be with the legal situation you currently find yourself in, you should think carefully before definitively concluding that the attorney is at fault.
As we shall discuss below, communication is important. Sometimes, if you have a concern with how your attorney is handling things, a little bit of proactive communication can go a long way.
It is never a bad idea to try to broach the subject with your attorney, and see if you can come to an understanding before taking any further steps. Maybe your attorney will listen to your concerns and acknowledge a mistake on their part, or maybe the opposite will happen and you will learn something new that you didn’t before.
This doesn’t always work, but it’s worth a try.
A lot of problems can be solved more easily than you may think, simply by talking them over.
That said, sometimes your intuitions are correct, and the attorney really is to blame for a problem. And when this is the case, you have every right to fire your attorney at any time and for any reason.
Even if you signed a fee arrangement with your attorney, you will still typically be able to cancel it. You may fire your attorney at any stage of the case: 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).
To fire an attorney, you should put it in writing, and this involves sending a written letter to your attorney informing them that they are being fired. You should also make sure that you have a new attorney before you fire the old one, and not just assume you’ll find someone afterwards. Otherwise, there may be a gap in representation that could make things difficult for you.
Of course, firing an attorney may come with some drawbacks: you will still have to pay your old attorney all the fees you owed them up until that point, and if your new attorney has to do catch-up work on your case because he or she is coming in during the middle, you may have to pay extra for that.
Switching attorneys midstream may hurt the case, and so you should be sure this is the right course of action for you before doing so.
But if your situation has become bad, you have that option.Free Case Review
Getting a Second Opinion
If you’re not ready to fire your lawyer, but you still have some concerns that they may not be doing the job they could be, then you are also free at any time to seek a second opinion from another lawyer.
This is pretty 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. Show the second attorney as much relevant information as possible, so that they have a clear idea of what your case is about.
You have little to lose, and perhaps a lot to gain, from getting another lawyer’s opinion!
Filing an Ethics Complaint
If your attorney has done something truly unethical, like stolen your money, then you might want to take your concerns to the next level,and file a complaint with the state bar association.
Lawyers are held to very strict rules of professional conduct, and if they violate these, they can face a variety of punishments, up to and including disbarment (losing their license to practice law). 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.
If you have been seriously wronged by an attorney, do not hesitate to get your state bar association and other relevant authorities involved.
Filing a Malpractice Lawsuit
Attorneys, like all other professionals, have an inherent legal duty to provide a reasonable level of service to their clients; i.e. 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 can sue your attorney for legal malpractice.
To win a malpractice lawsuit, you must prove that the attorney committed a breach of their duty to provide you with a reasonable standard of legal representation, and that the breach of duty caused you some harm.
These points can be hard to prove, but if you win a malpractice lawsuit, then you will be eligible to receive damages for the amount which you lost because of the attorney’s breach of their duty to you.
How Will I Know My Attorney Isn’t Right for Me?
Signs of a Bad Attorney
There are a few signs that you should watch for which might signal that it’s time to get a new attorney.
Your attorney may have violated confidentiality and attorney-client privilege, which are two of the most important obligations in the legal realm. Your attorney has the duty to keep your personal information private, both in and out of court, even if it is revealed that you have committed a crime or civil violation.
Your attorney may have a conflict of interest which may impede their ability to provide you with the proper legal representation in court. For instance, they may have a personal tie to the people on the other side of the case, or be representing someone with such ties.
Your attorney may not be handling their finances well; for instance, they may be overcharging you, or they might be financially intransparent. 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.
Finally, your attorney may be just plain incompetent. This is more common than you may think. Just because your attorney has been to law school and passed the bar doesn’t mean that they’re good. If you have a legal case, you shouldn’t settle for second best.
Communication is Essential
However, of all the complaints that clients tend to have about attorneys, the most common by far is communication. Clients often feel that their attorneys don’t do a good job of returning their calls, addressing their concerns, or telling them what is going on with the case.
A little bit of common courtesy and communication can go a long way, and having an open and easily reachable attorney can often mean the difference between a positive and negative overall experience.
Of course, attorneys are usually very busy. But that’s no excuse for not keeping the lines of communication open with their clients, who should be at the front and center of their day-to-day practice.
As a client, you have every right to expect that your attorney will respond to your calls. They should also regularly communicate with you to let you know what they are doing and how your case is advancing, and of course to hear your input.
It’s your case, after all, and you shouldn’t be left in the dark. And negligence in responding to a client can sometimes be a sign of something far more serious, like negligence in the lawyer’s actual practice.
Don’t just take our word for it, either. The American Bar Association agrees with us. In their words, “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.”
If your attorney doesn’t do all of these things, then perhaps it’s time to find someone new.
Every firm is a little different.
We at Torklaw are aware that client communication is paramount, and so we place a strong emphasis on regularly interfacing with our clients.
Our firm values quality over quantity, which means we treat the clients we have with as much care as possible, rather than signing as many cases as we can without regard to their value.
If our clients call us, we make sure to call back on the same day, and we provide regular status updates on your case, letting you know what’s going on and what we’ve done since we last spoke to you.
We utilize all modes of communication, including text messages, and we pick clients we know that we can help and for whom we can make a difference, not just the ones with the biggest or flashiest cases.
More importantly, however, we try to treat each client as a unique person with a story. An accident is a big deal. On the lawyer’s side of things, it can be easy to forget how horrible the experience is for the victim.
We at Torklaw aim to never forget that. We exhibit concern for our clients’ needs above and beyond our duties as your legal representatives, and we frequently keep in contact with our clients even after the case is settled.
Whatever your case, we hope you choose an attorney who is right for you, and if you feel that your attorney is not working out, do not hesitate to consider alternative options.