Dealing with a legal issue can be incredibly frustrating. The process may take longer than you expect, your lawyer may warn you about the likelihood of an unfavorable outcome, or the stress of the case may just overwhelm you.
With enough frustration, you may start to suspect that your lawyer is not doing a proper job. However, this is hard to know for certain without extensive knowledge of the law and a clear-eyed view of what the lawyer should or should not have done in your case.
Legal malpractice, or the failure to complete the duties owed to a client by their lawyer, is a very real, very serious issue. Just like a doctor can commit medical malpractice by making mistakes that cause you harm, a lawyer can commit legal malpractice by engaging in actions (or inaction) that lead to you being harmed financially.
Luckily, since lawsuits can take months, and sometimes even years, there are many opportunities for clients to spot legal malpractice and prevent further damage.
How to Spot Legal Malpractice in your Case
If you notice any of the following, you may want to consider finding a new attorney:
Lawyer Is Not Available When You Call. While it is unreasonable to assume that your attorney will be at your beck and call 24 hours a day, or that you are the only client that they are handling at the moment, a certain amount of availability is required.
If a lawyer is rarely available to pick up the phone, or takes days at a time to get back to you, you may have a problem. Court cases have deadlines – if your lawyer fails to meet these deadlines, you could be in big trouble. Over one-third of all legal malpractice cases are the result of clients who experienced miscommunication or delays from their lawyer. Punctuality and being quick to respond is key.
Lawyer Is Not Flexible With Meetings, Scheduling, Or Billing. You are paying the attorney for their services, not the other way around. In addition to being available for their clients, a good lawyer is flexible. An attorney who demands that you meet at their office for every meeting (especially if this was not laid out before you began to pay the lawyer), or who cannot compromise on financial issues, may not have their clients’ best interests in mind.
Lawyer Does Not Understand Your Wants or Needs. A lawyer won’t be able to deliver your ideal outcome on a silver platter, but they should understand and keep in mind your concerns, wants, and goals. Even if your attorney thinks your goals are unrealistic, they should be able to explain why, and work toward an outcome that comes closest to what you want.
Again, they are working for you. If your lawyer repeatedly fails to remember or understand what you want out of your case, you should be concerned. This is a form of negligence that could arise because the lawyer has too many clients to handle – or simply because they just don’t care about your case.
Lawyer Is Not Being Transparent. The law is the law. Sometimes, the law is going to work in your favor, and other times it will not. An attorney who has their clients’ best interest in mind is confident and honest with what they can do for their client within the laws of the land.
Do not be afraid to ask your lawyer questions about your case or meet with them face to face. A good test of a quality lawyer is asking these questions. If an attorney is hesitant to meet with a client, give them a straightforward answer about their case, or show them their file, than it is fair to assume that they are not competent or have something to hide.
Transparency should also be applied when discussing billing. If you receive a confusing bill, or your lawyer refuses to answer questions about how you are being charged, you have every right to be concerned and consider switching attorneys.
These are not the only signs of legal malpractice. If you believe that a lawyer does not have the proper knowledge of Florida law, is involved in a conflict of interest, or has committed clerical errors, you may want to pursue a legal malpractice case.
How Do You Bring about a Legal Malpractice Case?
If you suspect that your lawyer is failing to meet the duties they owe to you as a client, you have the right to find new representation during your case. Before you make the switch, be sure to consult with a third party that can assess your particular case, and whether or not it is time to fire your current attorney.
If the lawyer’s negligence has already cost you money in damages or payments, you may have a lawsuit on your hands. Talk to a lawyer who specializes in legal malpractice to learn more about taking the lawyer to court and fighting for compensation.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Winston Law. For over 20 years, he has successfully represented countless people in all kinds of personal injury cases, with a particular focus on child injury, legal malpractice, and premises liability. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Preeminent Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, enjoys a 10.0 rating by AVVO as a Top Personal Injury Attorney, has been selected as a Florida “SuperLawyer” from 2011-2017 – an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state – and was voted to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite” and as one of the Top 100 Lawyers in Florida and one of the Top 100 Lawyers in the Miami area for 2015, 2016, and 2017.