When you are struggling with a legal issue, whether as the result of an accident, negligence, carelessness, recklessness, or willful conduct that harms you, you need a car accident lawyer or personal injury attorney who understands you, respects you, and, most importantly, who will fight tirelessly to ensure your rights are protected. Good lawyers are always on your side; they advocate for you as they guide you through this complex terrain.
But what happens when your lawyer is not fulfilling their end of the deal? When they are not representing you with the expertise, the skill, the passion, and the intensity you need to achieve a successful outcome? You might find yourself saying, “I need a lawyer – a new one – right now.”
While every situation is different, generally, problems with lawyers fall into one of the following categories:
We’ll examine each one in turn.
When Your Lawyer Does Not, or Will Not, Communicate Effectively
This is one of the most frustrating scenarios: any effective relationship is based on communication, and it is paramount when it comes to the client-attorney relationship. Poor communication creates a confusing situation: do you have a good lawyer who is a bad communicator? Do you have a bad lawyer who covers it up by being vague?
They should be able to explain your legal matter in clear “layman’s” terms, how they will handle your case, what you should expect, and give at least a rough timeline. They should also be responsive to your messages: if you call, they answer or call back promptly.
If they do not communicate well or if you are finding it difficult to get them to return calls, send a polite, calm letter that spells out your concerns. Don’t leap immediately to threatening to file complaints or a malpractice lawsuit. This will likely backfire. However, if their behavior continues, you have two options:
- Suggest a mediator help you sort out your problems. Why would you do this? Well, it can be difficult to replace your lawyer if you’re in the middle of a case. And they may, in fact, be quite skilled at the legal aspect but be lacking in “deskside manner.” If they can make changes, it may be worth it to give them a second chance.
- Replace your attorney. If you are not confident in or comfortable with your lawyer, fire them and find another one. Have the second lawyer review all of the previous attorney’s actions. They can help you determine how much, if anything, you need to pay and/or provide guidance on filing a complaint or lawsuit, if the situation warrants.
What If Your Lawyer is Incompetent?
Yes, lawyers must pass the bar exam, but one test (albeit a difficult one) does not guarantee competence. Again, this is an incredibly frustrating position in which to find yourself. If you complain, typically, the state bar association is unlikely to take action for lack of skill if there is no violation of ethical rules or crimes (e.g. stealing). In this case, it may be best to cut your losses and find a new attorney.
If your lawyer’s conduct rises to the level of “gross incompetence,” (e.g., they did not file your lawsuit on time, they represented you even though it was a conflict of interest, etc.) or if they have stolen from you, there are a few steps you can take:
- File a complaint. In Florida, you do this with the Florida Bar’s Department of Lawyer Regulation. Their job is to enforce Supreme Court rules of professional conduct. If you are not sure whether or not your complaint is actionable, you can call the Attorney Consumer Assistance Program (ACAP). They may also be able to help you resolve conflicts before a complaint is necessary. Visit the Florida Bar for more information.
- Sue for malpractice. This is difficult. You must prove your lawyer made mistakes in handling your case, that you would have won otherwise, and that the mistake(s) caused financial loss. This is a complex, time-consuming, and expensive process, and it can be difficult to win. It is best to consult a good lawyer before you take this step.
What If Your Lawyer Is Unethical?
We covered a bit of this above, as it is certainly unethical to steal from clients. This is different from “incompetence.” There, a lawyer may be honest – but just not great at their job. Here, there is a willful violation of certain rules. For instance, they must:
- Keep communications confidential within the extent of the law.
- Represent you competently and without conflicts of interest.
- Represent you within the boundaries of the law.
- Put your interests before their own.
If your lawyer has violated these ethical codes, visit the Florida Bar’s website to file a complaint. Your lawyer may be fined, suspended, and (in very rare cases) disbarred.
What If Your Lawyer Charges Fees You Find Unfair?
Hiring a lawyer is a significant expense (though many in certain areas, such as personal injury, work on a contingency basis). But if you look at your bill and experience sticker shock, you may need to take action.
- Does the bill contain fees to which you did not agree?
- Did your lawyer fail to itemize the bill? You need to know what they’ve spent their time doing.
- Did your lawyer charge you for their time while a paralegal did the work?
- Did your lawyer overcharge (e.g., billing 30 minutes for a two-minute phone call)?
When you need to hire a personal injury lawyer, you should have a written fee agreement. Make sure this is clear and that your lawyer explains it to your satisfaction. If not, seek advice from ACAP.
In some cases, you may be desperate. Bills and expenses may be mounting; you may be unable to work; you may be facing a short window of time in which to file a suit. You just think, “I need a lawyer!” so you hire the first one you find on Google. Hopefully, this works out! But if your lawyer is not fighting for you, then fight for yourself. Take action, whether by trying to work it out with your attorney, firing them, or filing a complaint or malpractice suit.
Ironically, speaking to a lawyer can be the best step to take at this time. Good lawyers will help you determine the facts of your situation and what next steps make sense for you.
If your lawyer is not doing the best job possible for you, contact the legal team at the LaBovick Law Group. We are on your side.