With any relationship, as with that of a lawyer, there is a bit of a trial period where a client gets to see whether or not their lawyer is competent and effectively helps them resolve their legal disputes. While everyone hopes their lawyer will be a great fit as their legal representation, this is not always the case. While many lawyers are completely competent and talented in their field, a person may form a client-attorney relationship with a less-than-ideal lawyer and have to enforce their legal rights against the attorney. It is important to know the options when one finds themselves in a bad situation with their client-lawyer relationship and needs to take steps to remove their current attorney.
This article will outline what to do if your lawyer is not helping you or if you need help creating a formal complaint or more against an attorney. The goal of this article is to ensure that clients understand what whats when an incompetent lawyer fails to reasonably assist with the representation.
The Requirements of Legal Representation
When you form an attorney-client relationship, the Rules of Professional Conduct create a series of ethical duties to a client from an attorney. These ethical duties are vital to the relationship and ensure that clients can trust their attorney will important information and keep them safe. A violation of an ethical requirement can be the basis for a formal complaint to the state disciplinary board or a legal claim. For this reason, it is imperative that an attorney keep a client informed on the status of the attorney-client relationship and maintains the client’s informed consent for any possible issues that may arise. Several key aspects of legal representation include the following.
Clients should expect an attorney to return phone calls and promptly inform them of anything that happens in their case. This ensures that the attorney does not act against the client’s objectives. It also helps remind a client that a lawyer’s attention is on their case, which is one of the marks of a good lawyer. A lawyer or a lawyer’s office is expected to promptly comply with reasonable requests for information about the case.
However, a lawyer ignoring phone calls and continuously using poor communication is cause for concern. Because a client is entitled to prompt communication, an attorney can expect a disciplinary complaint if they are actively ignoring clients.
The best way to attempt to gain a lawyer’s attention is to send a certified letter to the office and state that you are prepared to get a new lawyer if they do not begin to communicate better. This will often get the attorney’s attention and ensure that you are addressed.
Another benefit of the relationship between an attorney and a client is the attorney-client privilege. This privilege grants the client a certain amount of confidentiality when they are working on a case with an attorney. It ensures that communication between a client and an attorney and the legal work between them is not shared with the other side, especially when it would be a detriment to their case. This applies even if you only spoke to the attorney once and decided to get a second opinion because you were looking for legal work to be done on a case.
If an attorney breaks this privilege, it can be a serious matter and can be the basis for a formal complaint or legal action.
Many cases will involve personal information such as medical bills or financial loss that can be sensitive information. This can be difficult for a party to share with an attorney in the first place, so the law creates an ethical duty for lawyers that requires them to keep information about their clients confidential. This gives clients the peace of mind that their sensitive information is not shared with others that are not working on their case.
If a lawyer acts in a way that violates this confidentiality, they can be subject to disciplinary action or a legal malpractice claim. However, both privilege and confidentiality can be broken if a client reveals that they are about to hurt themselves or someone else or are using the lawyer’s services for illegal activity. Still, a lawyer must share any relevant limitation with the client first.
Finally, the rules of professional conduct do require that a lawyer be competent before they take on a case. This means that they should know and understand the area of law that the case arises under. The client expects assistance with their claim that provides more than they would be capable of providing themselves.
For example, if a possible client asks an attorney about a claim under personal injury law, a family lawyer should not take personal injury cases if they are not familiar with the legal system for the case. They should instead refer people out to a new attorney that does understand what they need.
If a lawyer’s conduct is not competent or the lawyer handled the case inappropriately, it is a cause for concern and can subject the attorney to legal issues.
A fee disagreement is different than other complaints or claims against a bad lawyer. This is a dispute where the client and the attorney disagree about the fees that are being charged for their services. These claims are most commonly handled in a small claims court or through alternative dispute resolution, such as arbitration.
These types of disputes most frequently are an issue because a lawyer will add on fees that they did not disclose or they assign too much time to a task to overcharge the client. Additionally, a bad lawyer will sometimes charge a fee for a consultation that is not clearly stated before the consultation, and clients will often refuse to pay the lawyer that fee. If the dispute is only about money, it is often handled completely by the small claims court or arbitration. However, if the lawyer was deceptive in their fee schedule, it can be cause for other disciplinary action.
Ethical Violations or Differences in Opinion
Before a client opens a legal matter against a lawyer, it is important to understand the difference between a violation of ethical duties and a difference of opinion with a lawyer. Many clients will feel that their legal rights have been violated when the first lawyer they speak with does not take their case for one reason or another. In this case, it is best to get a second opinion on the case and proceed with a different lawyer.
This can also happen further into a case when a client and an attorney disagree about the expectations for the case. When this happens, clients will contemplate changing lawyers, especially if their current lawyer has told them to expect less than they expected. Because changing lawyers is a difficult process, especially when the case has started, many clients will stick with their original lawyer and use the threat of a new lawyer as a last resort.
Filing a Formal Complaint
If clients are unhappy with the service they received from their lawyer, they may file a complaint with a state bar association. By filing a disciplinary complaint with a local bar association, the lawyer will likely face disciplinary action up to the state supreme court deciding whether the formal complaint made to the bar association warrants a suspension or disbarment.
Most local bar associations will have a complaint form to file a complaint. A bar complaint will begin the process of review, and the complaint form ensures that the necessary information is included on the form when a client decides to file a complaint.
Legal Malpractice Claims
Another option for enforcing the ethical requirements against an old lawyer is to file legal malpractice claims against them. To bring up this claim, you would need to prove two things. First, that your lawyer acted badly or against your wishes in some way, and that you would have had a successful claim had your lawyer not acted badly. This does require bringing a new lawsuit against the lawyer that messed up the case, but it can often help ensure that both the lawyer is reprimanded and that you are compensated, which does not happen as frequently with just a bar complaint. This can ensure that the lawyer pays you for what you missed out on in another case.
While it may not hard to prove that your lawyer made bad decisions or ignored you in a way that harmed your case, it can often be difficult to prove that you could have won your case or been more successful had the lawyer not done what they did. For this reason, it may be helpful to look for a lawyer to help you with the case against your old lawyer.
Finding a Personal Injury Lawyer
These claims are personal injury claims and will require hiring a personal injury lawyer to bring the claim, which may stop a client that is wary of lawyers in general. However, having an experienced personal injury attorney can make this case much easier to succeed. You should look for a lawyer that specializes in malpractice claims and has a good reputation around town for these types of cases.
By identifying and working with a good lawyer, you will increase your likelihood of success and possibly overcome any reservations about the legal profession that you may have. A good lawyer will ensure adequate communication, include you in important decisions, be competent in the field, and keep your information private. By working with a lawyer that supports the case and cares about the outcome, you will be able to succeed both in this case and beyond. And the likelihood of you avoiding having to ask what to do if your lawyer is not helping you in the future will significantly decrease.
To learn more about what to do if your lawyer is not helping you, general legal representation and more, check out ADR’s extensive resources and knowledgebase here!