Rosenbaum & Rosenbaum, P.C. | March 25, 2022 | Personal Injury
One of the major factors affecting the actual value of your personal injury claim is the quality of your lawyer. However, despite your best efforts, you might have hired a bad lawyer. Although there is such a thing as legal malpractice, your lawyer’s performance does not have to sink to the level of legal malpractice to make dismissal a wise decision on your part.
Continue reading for some telltale signs you hired a bad lawyer, what happens if you fire a lawyer during legal proceedings, and how to avoid hiring a bad lawyer in the future.
What Are 6 Ways to Identify a Bad Lawyer?
The following are some ways you can identify a bad lawyer early in the hiring process before the damage to your claim becomes irreparable:
- Your lawyer fails to communicate with you. They should offer a free initial consultation, return your phone calls and emails within a reasonable time, clearly explain their points, tell you the truth even when it is unpleasant, and refrain from intimidating you out of asking questions. Major case decisions are yours alone to make, and you need good communication with your lawyer to make sound decisions.
- Your lawyer guarantees victory, no matter what. Such a guarantee is unethical because there is no way to ensure that you will win your claim. There is a difference between saying that you have a strong legal claim (if it is true) and guaranteeing you victory. This is particularly true if your case goes to trial because an attorney cannot guarantee that a jury or judge will unequivocally rule in your favor.
- Your lawyer behaves unethically towards others. Your lawyer may advise you to lie on the witness stand. They may conspire with a third party to defraud the court or an insurance company. If this happens, remember this – if your lawyer lies to others, they will lie to you, too. And, attorneys must act in accordance with the rules of professional conduct. Failure to do so could result in disciplinary action, including suspension from the practice of law and revocation of their legal license.
- Other people in the legal profession treat your lawyer with disdain. How do other professionals (judges, mediators, other lawyers, etc.) react to your lawyer? If your lawyer gets no respect, there might be a good reason.
- Your lawyer lacks empathy or respect for the difficulties you are facing. Empathy is a necessary trait for a good personal injury lawyer. The lure of a good payday is simply not enough to pull the best performance out of a lawyer. The best lawyers care, and caring is one of the critical attributes that makes them the best.
- Your lawyer applies unethical billing practices. One example is a surprise invoice for the lawyer’s out-of-pocket expenses (not legal fees) that you must pay regardless of whether you recover any personal injury compensation. You may have a legitimate complaint if these expenses are large or unclear. You also have a legitimate complaint if your lawyer led you to believe you would owe nothing unless you received compensation in your personal injury lawsuit.
What Happens If You Fire Your Lawyer During a Personal Injury Claim?
You have the right to fire your lawyer. Unfortunately, you might still owe them a certain amount of money even if you recover nothing from your claim.
The Contingency Fee Arrangement
Almost every lawyer charges personal injury clients on a contingency fee basis. If your lawyer secures compensation for you, you will owe them a pre-agreed percentage of your compensation. The average percentage ranges from 33% to 40%. If your lawyer does not secure any compensation for you, you will owe them nothing for the entire case.
This is the typical contingency fee arrangement. Carefully read your lawyer’s retainer agreement before you sign it because the terms may differ.
“Good Cause” To Fire an Attorney
If you fire your contingency fee lawyer, they may demand payment from you under a legal principle known as quantum meruit. Indeed, your lawyer might take you to court on a contract claim based on the retainer agreement you both signed.
In a worst-case scenario, the court might order you to pay reasonable legal fees even if you received no compensation. A lot depends on whether you had “good cause” to fire your lawyer. The better you can prove that you had good cause to fire your lawyer, the more likely it is that the court will rule that you owe your former lawyer little or nothing.
Hire a New Attorney First
If you decide to fire a bad lawyer, be sure to retain new legal counsel before you do so. Your new attorney will help you end the attorney-client relationship with your original lawyer and seek all documentation the lawyer has related to your case.
Your new lawyer will also notify the court of the new representation by filing a Consent to Change Attorney, which you and the withdrawing attorney should sign.
How Do I Avoid Hiring a Bad Lawyer?
The best way to avoid the negative consequences associated with hiring a bad lawyer is to proceed carefully during the hiring phase. Most personal injury lawyers offer free consultations to go over your situation. Be sure to do your research before the meeting and bring as much information (medical bills, photographs, medical records, etc.) as possible to steer the conversation.
Bring a list of questions, too. A good attorney will thoughtfully answer all of your questions and set your mind at ease during a stressful time. If you feel at all uneasy or uncomfortable with the lawyer, meet with a few more to determine the best option for you. This is a difficult time in your life, and you deserve quality legal representation to ensure a smooth process.