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My Attorney Screwed Up My Case…What Are My Rights?

06.23.2016 by | General

While relying on attorneys to handle litigation, settlements and lawsuits is normally beneficial for the public to pursue, as it is the attorney’s duty and obligation to perform the necessary steps for a claimant in need of representation, there are times when these individuals fall short of their expected skills. You turn to a lawyer and trust that he or she will help. However, what can you do when the attorney screws up the case? What are your rights? If you have lost the confidence in your attorney and are considering suing for malpractice, there are many things for you to know.

How to Pursue a Malpractice Case?

It is very hard to win a malpractice case because of the amount of evidence you need to prove that the lawyer failed to use the ordinary skill and care that would be used by other lawyers in handling a similar problem or case under similar conditions. As such, it is important to know that four basic things needed to win a malpractice case against your attorney:

  • duty- the attorney owed you their duty to act properly a licensed professional
  • breach- the attorney breached their duty towards you by being negligent, made a mistake or did not do what they were contracted to do
  • causation- this behavior by the attorney caused you damages, and
  • damages- the costs suffered resulted in a financial loss to you [1].

These basic pieces of malpractice are all due to problems associated with troubled attorney-client relationships. They are normally set off by a lack of communication, dishonestly and incompetence, inadequate legal work, arbitration and billings [2]. In order to be more specific, the American Bar Association posted an article that was taken from an issue of Law Practice magazine that shows the most common legal malpractice claims by type of alleged error for selected claims from both the United States and Canada. Out of the 24 legal claims, all of the aforementioned problems are listed as common problems. These include: the failure to know how to apply the law, strategy in planning error, inadequate discovery or investigation into the matter, failure to file documents, procrastination, failure to obtain client consent, fraud, etc [3].

If you feel as though your client privileged has been violated by any means mentioned, you may have a malpractice lawsuit.

What are your Rights?

Some basic rights that you are entitled to include proper and effective communication/ correspondence between a client and his or her attorney, the competency of the attorney to know the core knowledge and expertise of a client’s legal issue, the work was completed ethically and the agreement of fees is followed. As a summary, you can and should expect your lawyer to do the following:

  • Give you guidance regarding your legal circumstance
  • Keep you up to date about your case
  • Tell you what he or she thinks will transpire in your case
  • Allow you to make the vital judgements concerning your case
  • Give you an assessment about what your case ought to cost
  • Help you in any cost-benefit evaluation that you may need
  • Keep in communication with you
  • Inform you of any changes, delays or setbacks
  • Give you the information you need to make educated decisions, and
  • Prepare you for your case, including disposition and trail preparation [4].

Even with all of that in mind, here are some answers to common questions clients may have regarding their lawyers.

Common Questions

I’ve lost confidence in my lawyer, should I fire them?

The ability to fire a lawyer is up to the client at any time or point. However, unless this lawyer is truly terrible and violates your rights or commits malpractice as described before, it is often not the best choice to go after a lawyer, unless you have another attorney who has expressed interest in the case.

 

I fired my lawyer, but I need my information back, can I get it?

It is essential to ask or to sign an authorization allowing any new attorney to get your documents for the impending case. While there may be a fee dispute with your former lawyer, or you have yet to pay them, you are entitled to have your information.

 

My lawyer isn’t returning my phone calls. Is this malpractice?

While it could fall into a communication error, returning phone calls effectively is not a plausible reason to file a malpractice claim. However, this could be a sign of looming trouble. To figure out why your lawyer may not be returning your calls, try and deal with the situation by writing them a letter or email or even faxing their office explaining your issues with the current—or lack thereof–communication and asking for a phone call or a meeting to restore your relationship. He or she may be busy researching your case, dealing with a sickness or having family issues. In any case, if this outreach doesn’t work and you find out that it is for other reasons such as procrastination or bluntly being rude, you may consider firing the lawyer or filing a formal complaint with Florida’s Bar Association.

 

My lawyer appears to have stopped working on my case; is this malpractice?

The longer your lawyer doesn’t communicate with you about your case, the more likely it is to eventually amount to malpractice. Just as the last question suggested, you must seek to reach your attorney as quickly as possible through letters, emails or a fax to make sure that it is properly handled. If not, the ignorance on their part will allow you to hire a new attorney early on while the case can still be saved.

 

My case with thrown off the docket; is this grounds to sue my lawyer if they completed no work?

This is a possibility. Your attorney is responsible for whatever monetary damages you are owed, had you won the case by an attentive attorney. The difficulty in winning a case of malpractice in this claim is that you not only have to prove that your lawyer handled the case ineffectively, but also if you were to have had another attorney who handled it correctly, you could have won and collected compensation.

 

The monetary sum I was granted is far lower than what my attorney said I could get for the case, can I sue the lawyer for the difference?

While it may be upsetting to not get the compensation you thought you deserved based on your attorney’s comments, you cannot file a malpractice claim against this fallacy. You can, however, get your file from the lawyer and get a second opinion on your case. If another lawyer believes that you are being advised to settle for far less than what you are owed, consider changing lawyers before settling.

 

What if my lawyer settles without my consent; can I sue then?

Yes you can. However, you would have to prove that your lawyer did so without your authorization because the settlement was far less than what you were truly owed and didn’t effectively represent your case or that the lack of communication was systematic.

 

My attorney sent me a large and unforeseeable bill, what can I do?

If you believe the bill that you’ve received is outside of the context of your agreement, don’t pay it. Ask your lawyer about why the bill is the amount it is and—if you disagree, ask for a reduction. If the lawyer refuses to do so, consider filing for a nonbinding fee arbitration with a state or local bar association. Arbitration allows an outside party to become the neutral decision maker when regarding bills and finances. It can be binding or nonbinding which allows you to reject the arbitrator’s assessment [5]. Find out more from our local association.

 

There are many more questions clients may have regarding their rights when getting assistance from an attorney. These are just a few that can help make things more clear. If you have any more questions, you may contact our offices to inquire about your legal rights.

Dolman Law Group

We understand at Dolman Law Group, the trust that clients bestow upon our experienced professionals. That is why we make the commitment to ensure personal service and accessibility. All claims are handled by one of our lawyers that are experts in their fields. You will never have to deal with inexperienced paralegals, case managers, or have to worry about untrained interns making management decisions about your case. If you have any personal injury claim, including a legal malpractice claim, we are here for you.

If you or someone you know is in need of legal advice, regarding their case in the Clearwater/St.Peterburg/Tampa Bay area, contact one of your Clearwater personal injury attorneys at Dolman Law Group. Our number is (727) 451-6900.

Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765
(727) 451-6900

https://www.dolmanlaw.com/legal-services/

References:

[1] http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/suing-lawyer-malpractice-30192.html
[2] http://litigation.findlaw.com/filing-a-lawsuit/legal-malpractice-claims.html
[3] http://www.americanbar.org/publications/law_practice_home/law_practice_archive/lpm_magazine_webonly_webonly07101.html
[4] http://hirealawyer.findlaw.com/attorney-fees-and-agreements/what-to-expect-from-your-lawyer.html
[5] http://www.lectlaw.com/files/att18.htm