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Substandard Legal Representation

HandelontheLaw.com Staff Writer

Tuesday, February 04, 2014



Substandard Legal Representation
Legal Malpractice

Ideally, your lawyer is: ethical; a critically-thinking, practical, creative counselor and advocate; knowledgeable about his/her area of law; experienced; a strong communicator; a constant, positive, credible networker; a skilled, diligent organizer; a good negotiator; compatible with you; and realistic about his/her limitations. However, you might occasionally hire a lawyer and find that he/she falls so far below those standards that his/her representation actually harms your interests. If that is the case, you have several recourses. Let’s review those recourses from least to most severe.

First, problems with your attorney – including but not limited to substandard representation - can often be resolved by directly addressing the issue(s) with your attorney. Whatever the issue, the quickest, least expensive and least time-consuming approach is often a frank human-to-human discussion of the issue. Resolving the issue in this manner allows you to better understand or rework your attorney-client relationship and get on with whatever matter brought you together in the first place. If your attorney will not communicate with you, you’ve got a real problem because communication is vital to his/her representation of your interests.


Secondly, if your attorney is not communicating with you: leave a phone message at his/her office requesting a return call by a specified, reasonable date; if you do not receive the return call, then write to the attorney and request that he/she contact you by a specified, reasonable date and mail the letter by return receipt requested. If your attorney does not contact you by that date, it’s time to “bail” and get another lawyer.


Third, hire another lawyer to pursue your original case. Clients change lawyers more often than you might realize, so lawyers are used to obtaining client files from each other, negotiating fees/costs arrangements and notifying courts/parties about the change of attorneys. It’s quite possible that your change of lawyers will occur with nary a ripple in your case. In fact, any of these first 3 steps can be accomplished with relatively little trouble.

Suppose, though, that the problem cannot be resolved by those first 3 steps. Suppose that the attorney took your money or missed a vital filing date for your case or made some other act/omission that seriously harmed your interests. In that case, you can take several more severe steps.


Fourth, file a complaint with the attorney’s state bar association. An attorney’s license is governed by the state bar association where he/she is licensed. The state bar’s sway over attorney licensing includes powers/responsibilities such as: setting and enforcing standards for obtaining and keeping the license; receiving and investigating complaints; disciplining attorneys; and reimbursing clients for attorney dishonesty. State bar associations have established and refined the process for filing complaints. For example, the California State Bar provides a complaint form and instructions here: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Attorneys/LawyerRegulation/ComplaintForm.aspx Complaint forms are typically printed and mailed because the state bar needs your supporting information and documentation to accompany your complaint. This allows the state bar to fully review the complaint and decide its course of action. You should receive acknowledgement of the complaint’s receipt and may be contacted for further information or documentation. In any event, you will be advised of the investigation’s results. All state bar associations maintain information phone numbers, so Google your state bar association and call for information about filing a complaint.


Fifth, if you lost money through your lawyer’s dishonesty, you might be reimbursed for that loss through a state bar association’s client reimbursement fund. The California State Bar maintains a Client Security Fund for just that purpose and provides an application form and instructions here: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Attorneys/LawyerRegulation/ClientSecurityFund/Application.aspx All state bars maintain information phone numbers, so Google your state bar association and call for information about this fund.


Sixth, if your attorney has caused you to lose money for some reason other than dishonesty OR if you cannot use a state bar reimbursement fund, hire a lawyer who specializes in legal malpractice. He/she has the experience and knowledge to handle this specific and sometimes difficult type of case by suing your “old” attorney.


Seventh, in the most serious case, your lawyer may have literally committed a crime against you. With the assistance of your legal malpractice lawyer, you can decide whether and how to press criminal charges against your “old” attorney. Of course, criminal charges can be pursued with or without a lawyer’s assistance but criminal charges are serious and the potential backlash against you is also serious, so this avenue is best considered with the assistance of a legal malpractice attorney.


DO’S AND DON’TS

DON’T be intimidated by the process or the people.

DO attempt to resolve problems by directly addressing the issue(s) with your attorney.

DO approach a non-communicating attorney by:
a. Leaving a phone message at his/her office requesting a return call by a specified, reasonable date;
b. Writing to the attorney and request that he/she contact you by a specified, reasonable date and mail the letter by return receipt requested.
c. If all else fails, hiring another lawyer.

DO hire another lawyer to pursue your original case.

DO file a complaint with the attorney’s state bar association. In California, this complaint form and instructions are found here: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Attorneys/LawyerRegulation/ComplaintForm.aspx

DO file an application for reimbursement with the state bar association if you lost money through your lawyer’s dishonesty. In California, the application form and instructions are found here: http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Attorneys/LawyerRegulation/ClientSecurityFund/Application.aspx

DO hire a lawyer who specializes in legal malpractice.

DO, with the assistance of your legal malpractice lawyer, decide whether and how to press criminal charges against your “old” attorney.

Kathy Catanzarite

[Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither HandelontheLaw.com, or any of its affiliates, shall have any liability stemming from this article.]



Source: Kathy Catanzarite - Handelonthelaw.com Staff Writer

Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information can not be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither the author, handelonthelaw.com, or any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.



LEGAL MALPRACTICE DOS AND DON'TS

 


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