Legal Malpractice

When You Are Unhappy with Your Lawyer FAQ

Q: Can you fire your lawyer?

  • A:You're the boss. If at any time you're unhappy with your lawyer's services, you can fire your lawyer. You can fire a lawyer regardless of your fee agreement and even if your case is pending in court. Your attorney is entitled to payment for services rendered up to the time of dismissal, in accordance with your fee agreement.

    Be aware that firing a lawyer after a suit has been filed usually requires the court's permission. If the case is close to trial, the court may be reluctant to grant permission for dismissal if it'ill delay the proceedings unless the court finds you have good cause under the circumstances to discharge your attorney.

    Keep in mind that under the law of some states, the attorney you fired may be allowed to keep your file until you've paid your bill. When you hire a lawyer, ask him or her about the applicable law in your state.

Q: What if you lost a case that your lawyer said was a winner?

  • A:Be wary of an attorney who says that a case can't be lost. Smart, experienced, honest lawyers know better. No lawsuit is a sure winner for either side. Remember that your attorney is required to be competent, loyal, honest, and to represent you zealously within the boundaries of the law. Meeting all these standards, he or she still might lose. Even great lawyers lose cases.

    However, it's possible your attorney lost or bungled your case because he or she failed to satisfy or follow the procedures or laws that applied in that particular action. In an extreme case, you may have a legitimate malpractice claim. At this point the last thing you might wish to do is hire another attorney. However, you'll need a lawyer to bring a malpractice case against another lawyer. Look in the directory for legal malpractice lawyers in your area.

Q: What if your lawyer isn't answering your phone calls?

  • A:Ignoring phone calls is rude and unprofessional. Besides, your attorney is obligated to communicate with you and keep you advised of the progress of your case. The frequency of that communication and the form it takes will vary according to your case.

    Before you decide that your attorney isn't communicating adequately with you, ask yourself if your expectations are reasonable. Expecting your attorney to talk to you for an hour every week about your case will cost you money if you're being billed at an hourly rate. Regular phone calls are also unnecessary if your attorney has no news to report. Remember, an attorney represents many clients simultaneously and must allocate her time to keep legal costs down without compromising work quality.

    If you have information or questions for your attorney, it's a good idea to write a short letter and request a written response. Still no answer? Follow up with a phone call. If your lawyer fails to respond and continues to neglect your reasonable requests for information, it could be time for you to fire him. At that point you might also want to contact the appropriate lawyer disciplinary authorities.

    Don't let things go for an unreasonable period of time. The persistent refusal of an attorney to respond to your communications over a significant period of time suggests something is wrong. You may need another attorney to move forward with your matter.

Q: What should you do if you think your lawyer has acted unethically?

  • A:Lawyers who have acted unethically face a variety of sanctions from censure and suspension, to disbarment from legal practice. If you feel that your lawyer has acted improperly or unethically, contact the Lawyer Disciplinary Agency in your state and file a complaint.

    Keep in mind that if your attorney used your money in an unethical way, a disciplinary action won't get you your money back. These proceedings punish unethical lawyers but don't necessarily provide a financial remedy to a wronged client.

Q: What should you do if you think your lawyer has overcharged you?

  • A:Review your fee agreement and the bills your attorney has sent you. All charges should be consistent with your agreement. If you have questions about particular charges, ask your lawyer. Frequently, charges make more sense after a brief explanation.

    If you can't resolve your questions regarding fees and charges with your lawyer you may want to have your bill reviewed by an attorney organization that will evaluate it for fairness. Some states offer fee arbitration services for clients.

    Finally, nothing stops you from hiring another lawyer to resolve the matter, possibly through additional litigation.

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