Is your lawyer ignoring your calls, failing to provide updates on your case or acting in other ways that give you pause? These may be some of the telltale signs of a bad lawyer.
Even the most airtight legal case can be derailed by a lawyer’s poor performance. Knowing what to do if your lawyer is not helping you can be your only hope to hold them accountable and keep your case on track.
The problem is that most people don’t know if their lawyer’s behavior is normal, if changing lawyers will cost them more money or if it will hurt their pending claim.
This is a common issue, and we’ve collected solutions in this guide to help you resolve the conflict with your lawyer.
How To Know if You Have a Bad Lawyer
The first step toward keeping your personal injury lawyer accountable is knowing how to tell if your lawyer is not giving you what you need in the first place. Here are a few red flags that you might be dealing with bad lawyers.
Your Lawyer Isn’t Responding
Your lawyer has defined expectations that they must live up to regarding communication that have been set by the American Bar Association. These rules include:
- Informing you of any progressions that require your consent
- Consulting you regarding your desired objectives
- Keeping you reasonably informed about the status of your case
- Complying with requests for information
- Informing you of limitations placed on their conduct
These are the minimum requirements only and many clients rightfully hold their lawyer to a higher standard. A good lawyer will respond to you promptly even if only to tell you there’s no updates. Where a bad lawyer might not respond at all. Communication is the key to all relationships. If your lawyer isn’t giving you what you need, don’t feel pressured to wait it out. Consider replacing them with a lawyer who is happy to meet your communication expectations.
“Communication is key. Always keep your client informed.”
Your Lawyer Isn’t Being Transparent
You hire a lawyer to work for you. It’s your case and you have a right to know what’s going on with it. Good lawyers will proactively provide you with that information such as giving you updates regarding the status of your case periodically or when a milestone happens.
They should also keep you abreast of medical bills that will be taken out of your case, changes in their settlement expectations and timeline, and more. This sort of behavior not only signals they’re proud of their work and aren’t trying to hide anything from you, but that they’re organized and good at communicating - skills you want your lawyer to have to get you the best outcome anyway.
Your Lawyer Isn’t Helping With Everything You Need
Personal injury lawyers only get paid on the total settlement they get for their clients. They don’t make more money if they help their clients:
- Get their car repaired
- Find medical providers who don’t charge an arm and a leg
- Obtain loans to pay for rent or food while they’re injured and out of work before their case settles.
Good lawyers listen to their clients’ concerns about everything related to their accident and often help with these things too since they’re a result of the same underlying accident they’re pursuing.
Bad lawyers will show no concern for your personal struggles and won’t listen to see if they can help. If your lawyer doesn’t seem to care about your situation, it may be a sign you should consider changing lawyers.
Your Lawyer Seems Grossly Incompetent
While poor communication can be improved, every day with an incompetent lawyer throws your claim into jeopardy.
Lawyer incompetence can take the form of:
- Failing to file the right paperwork
- Losing evidence crucial to your claim
- Lacking the skills necessary to negotiate a settlement
If you’ve identified any red flags in your lawyer’s performance, replacing them quickly may be your only chance to salvage your case.
“There is no excuse for blowing deadlines or not moving a case forward.”
Your Lawyer Won’t Pay Your Share of a Settlement
Before your case is officially settled, your personal injury lawyer will likely ask you to sign a “Settlement Statement” that lays out the total settlement, the amount your lawyer will get, the amount your doctors will get, and the amount that other lienholders who have an interest in your case will get before you. When you sign this, a good lawyer will tell you the timeline of when you should expect to get your share.
Once the settlement funds come in, your lawyer should immediately let you know. This won’t necessarily mean you will get paid that day – holdups like lien negotiations can delay a payout – but good lawyers communicate well.
Lawyers follow specific steps when holding your settlement in escrow and paying it out. One reason the payment may be delayed is they may be negotiating reductions with medical providers or other lienholders and don’t feel comfortable paying you until those negotiations are complete. There also may be other good reasons for them to hold your settlement even after they get it. A bad lawyer won’t explain these reasons and timeline. A good lawyer will.
Really bad lawyers may wrongfully withhold payments, pay certain parties too much, or commingle your funds with their firm's operating account. These are not only signs for a bad lawyer, they’re signs of one who is violating their ethical duties and it may indicate an instance where you should get the state disciplinary board involved.
“Settlements are complex and making sure funds go where they are supposed to takes time, but your lawyer should always keep you informed.”
Your Lawyer Has Acted Unethically
Lawyers have a host of ethical responsibilities that they owe to clients that are very different from those owed in other professions. A lawyer violating their ethical responsibilities is a serious matter and can lead to them being censured, reprimanded, suspended, or even disbarred.
Lawyers are regulated by their state bar associations, who have rules of professional conduct that set ethical boundaries, though many are common sense. Among a lawyer’s ethical responsibilities include:
- Diligently attending to all necessary tasks associated with your case
- Charging reasonable fees and disclosing the specifics of all charges
- Upholding attorney-client privilege by keeping what a client reveals to them confidential
- Disclosing potential conflicts of interest so that they do not take advantage of their client
- Safeguarding client funds
Violations of ethical duties are a serious matter, and in some cases an attorney’s violations are done to enrich themselves at the expense of their clients (like stealing settlement funds due to clients). If an attorney violates their ethical duties, you should consider reporting them to your state’s disciplinary board. If the violation was extreme, such as stealing your property, you may want to involve the police.
“Lawyers are held to a high standard, rightfully so, and violating ethical duties is unacceptable.”
What To Do if Your Lawyer Is Not Helping You Before You Decide to Fire Them
If you haven’t quite decided yet to fire your personal injury lawyer, but want to be proactive, here are some strategies to take to help you move the ball forward before calling it quits.
1. Ask Questions
As with any relationship, communication is key. What are your concerns? Ask your lawyer about those concerns specifically and see what he or she says. Do the answers make sense to you? You shouldn’t need to be a lawyer to understand what’s going on in your case. So if your lawyer tries to talk past you or doesn’t address your questions with sincere concern, it may help you decide it’s the final straw.
2. Get a Second Opinion
Consulting with another lawyer to hear their thoughts concerning your case can give you better insights into the state of your case. They can let you know if your case is progressing at a typical rate or if you should take action to set things right.
Of course, you should know that the new lawyer may be trying to win your business too so they may tell you what you want to hear. But, hopefully, now that you have experience working with a lawyer your “B.S. radar” will be higher this time around.
You should be able to find a personal injury lawyer to give you this second opinion for free.
3. Request Your File
Requesting your file sends a clear message to your personal injury lawyer that you take this seriously and expect results. That alone should be enough to spur your lawyer into action. What they do next should be telling. If they call you and try and win you back, this is a good sign. But use it as an opportunity to reset expectations and even make demands.
If your lawyer gives you your file without much further communication, that may be a sign of how they value you and your case at the firm. This may be a sign you’re better off finding another lawyer.
If you do decide to fire your lawyer, having your file will make it easier for your new representation to get caught up to speed and carry on with your claim.
4. Voice Concerns
If your lawyer fails to answer your questions to a satisfying degree, expressing your displeasure may get your lawyer’s attention. Looking out for your own interests will either prevent you from being taken advantage of or, at the very least, allow you to put an end to it quickly. The more formal the better. Consider email for the least formal and certified mail as the most formal way of delivering this message.
Laying out your concerns in writing will give your lawyer a chance to address them while also allowing them to change their behavior to match your expectations.
5. Consider Firing Your Lawyer
If you’ve exhausted all methods of reconciliation with your lawyer, you can always fire. To rid yourself of your lawyer once and for all, take these steps:
- Review your engagement agreement to identify the termination process you agreed to. This defines how much notice you’re required to give them, any fees they’ll still be entitled to related to your case and any other terms your lawyer may expect.
- Identify a new lawyer you want to hire before notifying your original lawyer. This will ensure you have no gaps in legal representation while your case is still underway and reassure you that there is another lawyer willing to take your case
- Write a letter notifying them that you’re ending your attorney-client relationships. This needs to be formally submitted in writing. The lawyer should acknowledge receipt and if they don’t this should be sent by certified mail so that you have proof it was submitted.
- If your case was already filed in court, you or your new lawyer will need to notify the court that you will now be represented by new counsel. Your old lawyer will withdraw themselves as your representation and your new lawyer will file a motion for substitution of counsel.
After that, you’ll be free of your old lawyer.
6. Also consider Getting a Mediator
Sometimes it can be difficult to communicate with your lawyer from an emotionally charged place. A mediator is a third party who seeks to improve the relationship between you and your lawyer from a neutral position.
They can reveal shortcomings in your current relationship while providing solutions for improvement. This is very uncommon other than for high value cases where you’ve already been working together for an extended period of time and it’s harder or impractical for various reasons for you to fire your lawyer.
7. Seek Arbitration
If issues with your lawyer exceed trivial complaints or they refuse to meet your expectations, arbitration may be your next best option.
Arbitrators act similarly to mediators, by reviewing arguments and evidence, but their decisions may be legally binding. This all depends on the details of the contract you signed with your lawyer.
Arbitration is a rare, but viable, alternative if you’re facing an easily identifiable issue, such as unexpected fees. This is also not very common in personal injury.
8. File a Complaint
If your lawyer resists all other attempts at reconciliation, filing a bar complaint is the formal way to discipline them. This option should be reserved for serious violations. Reasons to file a complaint against an attorney can include:
- Disclosing confidential details you shared with them
- Failing to disclose a quid-pro-quo relationship
- Missing important legal deadlines
Filing a bar complaint against your lawyer will vary based on the state they practice in. You may need to submit your claim to the state bar association or to a designated disciplinary board. They will likely have a complaint form ready to fill out, or you can submit a written complaint letter.
What Happens If You Change Lawyers
Many clients are hesitant to fire their lawyer because of how it might affect them and their case, like how much it’ll cost. The process and how it affects you is fairly straightforward in personal injury cases, which makes it easy to address these common concerns:
- Will it cost me more? Don’t worry, it shouldn’t cost you more. Personal injury lawyers are usually only paid a percentage of the settlement awarded to their client. If you change lawyers before a settlement is reached, then the old lawyer and your new lawyer will usually split the established fee. It will be up to the lawyers to figure out the split based on the amount of work your initial lawyer has done. In most cases, you shouldn’t be charged anything extra.
- But it might slow down your case (or speed it up). Changing lawyers does hold the potential to delay your progress, but it depends on the details of your case. Replacing an incompetent lawyer may lead to a faster resolution if you replace them with someone who is more skilled.
- And changing to a good lawyer shouldn’t hurt your case. Retaining a bad lawyer will usually do more harm to your case than replacing them. Hiring a new lawyer will have no influence on the merits of your case and, if you choose wisely, they can help it.
Now that you know what to do if your lawyer is not helping you, you’re better equipped to resolve the issues you’re facing.
You should never feel intimidated into blindly following your lawyer’s lead. If your lawyer isn’t providing the help you need, it may be time to seek help from Mighty.
FAQs About What To Do if Your Lawyer Is Not Helping You
Have more questions surrounding what to do if your lawyer is not helping you? We have answers.
How Often Should I Hear From My Lawyer?
You should hear from your lawyer when important progress has been made regarding your claim, or in advance of certain events requiring your participation such as negotiations on your case or presenting a demand to an insurer. The frequency of these exchanges will vary depending on how complicated your claim is.
A better measure of your lawyer’s attentiveness is how quickly they respond after you reach out with questions.
How Do I Deal With a Lawyer Not Responding?
If your lawyer is not responding to your calls, you should escalate the communication. Consider asking them for your file, send them a certified letter describing your issue or what you need from them. Request an in-person meeting so that you can get direct answers regarding your claim.
How Long Should a Lawyer Take To Respond?
A lawyer should respond to you within days of your call or email, not weeks, months or longer. Sometimes a lawyer’s response will be delayed due to a vacation or illness. In those situations, a longer response time may be needed.
Can a Lawyer Settle My Claim Without My Consent?
No, a lawyer is not allowed to settle your case without your consent. If they do, or if they reject an offer without your consent, you can file a formal complaint with your state’s bar association.
What Can I Do if My Lawyer Sent Me a Large and Unexpected Bill?
Your lawyer should define their fees with you before taking you on as a client. If your lawyer is getting more of your settlement than you expected or agreed to, , you should check your engagement agreement to see if it falls under your agreed upon terms.
Some billing practices have been invalidated by state and federal authorities. These can include:
- Being billed twice for the same case costs
- Non-itemized bills
- Being charged the incorrect rate
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