My lawyer is not fighting for me – what should I do?

People entrust their dearest and most personal interest in a lawyer, especially when it comes to divorce, but what to do if for some reason your lawyer is not fighting for your rights as you feel they should? It’s a very frustrating situation, but not so uncommon.

Every day many people face such problems during their legal representations for separation. Most problems are around these areas;

  • Communication
  • Competence
  • Work ethics
  • Problems regarding fees and payments

You have a right to receive a quality service from your attorney, but what can you do if your lawyer is not fighting for you?

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First, email and call them

Assuming it is not urgent, first try a short email, letting your lawyer know you have concerns about the case and would like to schedule a call or meeting. If you don’t get a response with 24 working hours (legal response should be much faster than this), then follow up with a telephone call. No answer or just the receptionist? Follow up again by email and let your lawyer know you have been trying to contact them.

If it is urgent, get on the phone straight away, then follow up by email and chase every 6 hours or so (about twice a day).

Those are the first steps — reach out to contact them, and ensure your correspondence is traceable. Email is often the most convenient method however a telephone call or meeting will be required to address any issues.

Establish communication

We all know communication problems can create problems in any relationship, attorney and client relationship is no exception to this rule. So to have a good legal representation you need to have a good communication system established with your attorney.

This is the first point of call to address any problem, and the main mechanism through which problems can be prevented.

What should I expect when I do speak to them?

Try talking to your divorce lawyer, communicate your concerns and ask whatever questions are bothering you about your case. Ask them to explain their strategies to you, so you can understand your case and their work better. As you are paying, you have the right to know about your case and its development.

Your lawyer should be able to do the following:-

  • Explain all the options available to you regarding your divorce.
  • Discuss your case strategies with you.
  • Provide you with all important timelines and dates.
  • And most importantly answer your phone calls and return them promptly.

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If any of the above are missing then you’ve got a problem with your lawyer and it needs to be addressed.

If your lawyer is unresponsive and is not returning your phone calls or your communications with him/her are unfruitful, you can consider a mediator to work out your communication problems. In worst case scenario if your lawyer has abandoned you and is still not returning your phone calls or mails, you can file a complaint with the state bar association.

Research & understand your case

Do some research and educate yourself about your separation/divorce and your problem. You can even make some notes and pointers and discuss those with your lawyer.

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This can help your case and lawyer’s argument and even make your case stronger.  If your lawyer is still not fighting for you as you feel they should or you think they lack competency then consider getting a second opinion.

Get a second opinion from another lawyer

If you are still not satisfied with the progress of your divorce case and have doubts. You can get a second opinion by making an appointment with another family / divorce lawyer and discussing your case. They may give you the first assessment for or they may charge you for an hour or two, but second opinions are very valuable and they can put all your doubts at rest and provide assurance if your case is moving in right direction or not.

Remember the more information you give and documents you show the second lawyer the better advice you will get from him/her. Keep in mind though every lawyer has their own way of doing things, so their strategies may vary.

Get your case file

If you are not so sure about your current lawyer’s work and you think you need to fire them, you need to get all your divorce paper work and documents immediately. This includes all court records and copies of all correspondence.

Consider this is a very important step. You need to have all your paper work from your case, so that you can meet the deadlines and repair all the mistakes your lawyer made so far.

If your lawyer is unresponsive, you can go to the courthouse and look at your file there, it will contain all the papers that have been filed in court to date, however obviously it will not include any documents that have not been filed.

If you have hired a new lawyer, they can help you get your file. Just check the cost first, because it really is quite easy to obtain these documents from the court house yourself.

Fire your lawyer

This should be the last resort; if you are very sure that your lawyer is incompetent and your relationship with him/her has become intolerable, you can fire him/her at any time, but give it a serious thought because your new lawyer will have to catch up on all the work done before and this could get expensive. Also if your case is scheduled in next week or so, your new lawyer will have a monumental job ahead.

Can I Sue my lawyer if they are not doing their job?

This is the next big question and the answer is yes, you can definitely sue your lawyer for malpractice, but this is not an easy task, as you will need to prove the malpractice, by proving two things:-

  • That your lawyer messed up, and;
  • That you would have won your case otherwise.

You will also need to prove to the court that you suffered financial loss due to mistake of your lawyer. A mistake on the part of your lawyer alone is not enough.                            

You also need to keep in mind that legal malpractice cases are expensive to pursue and if you are sure about it, you need to do it as quickly as possible. Another point to keep in mind is make sure your lawyer either has malpractice insurance or some valuable assets from which he can pay you, if you won the case.

How to get your money back from a lawyer?

If your lawyer has acted with gross incompetence or has actually stolen your money. You can file a complaint with your state’s lawyer discipline agency. The complaint can be filed on any of the following reasons:-

  • Your lawyer failed to show up in court.
  • Your lawyer didn’t do work you paid for.
  • Your lawyer committed a crime.
  • Your lawyer has a drug or alcohol abuse problem.
  • Your lawyer failed to pay you money that you won in settlement or a lawsuit.

Every state has an agency responsible for licensing and disciplining lawyers, mostly it’s the state bar association. The agency is most likely to take action, but sometimes they wait for more similar complaints against a particular lawyer.    

All states, except Maine, New Mexico and Tennessee have funds from which they may reimburse clients whose attorneys stole from them. But remember this is a very slow process.

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