Once you find an attorney to handle an issue, you may be wondering what to expect regarding the lawyer's communication, competence, ethics, and fees. This article provides useful tips and rules regarding what you can expect from your attorney.
Lawyer communication refers to the correspondence and communication between a client and their attorney. If you have a lawyer communication problem, you may be wondering if you have a bad attorney or if they are doing a poor job on your case. You should know that many states have laws regarding when and how lawyers must communicate with clients.
In general, however, you should be able to expect to get a general overview of your case whenever you request it from your attorney. In addition, you should also expect your attorney to call you back or return your emails promptly. If your attorney does not respond within one business day, they should tell you why they could not answer your question (this can include a heavy caseload or your lawyer being in court for a trial).
If your attorney refuses to keep you updated on what is happening with your case or fails to return your repeated phone calls within a week with no explanation, however, then you should address this communication problem with them. If your attorney is not responsive to your worries, then you may want to consider finding different legal representation for your situation.
In addition to communication, you may also have problems with your lawyer's competency. This relates to an attorney's core knowledge and expertise in handling a client's legal issue.
You should remember that lawyers are not machines. They are just as capable of making a mistake as anyone else, meaning there is never a guarantee that your attorney will perform flawless work. Passing the bar exam is not guarantee that your lawyer has the skills to represent you effectively in court.
Many bar associations claim that they handle issues regarding lawyers' competency. Still, you will often not receive much more than a shrug if you complain about the quality of your attorney's work. State bar associations are generally understaffed and have difficulty investigating attorneys' competence.
However, you may have a claim for legal malpractice if your attorney makes a mistake or error that no reasonably competent attorney would make, and that error led to you losing money or facing harm. These mistakes can be procedural, such as not filing your lawsuit on time, or ethical, like representing two sides of a divorce at the same time without notifying either side. However, malpractice lawsuits are generally expensive to pursue (you will probably have to hire another attorney to represent you) and hard to win.
Although each state has its own set of ethical rules attorneys must follow, there are some common themes. These ethics rules generally require attorneys to:
- Maintain the attorney-client privilege
- Perform their duties to the degree of a reasonably competent attorney
- Represent their client's interests loyally
- Work within the bounds of the law
- Maintain separate bank accounts for client money
- Not engage in any criminal activities
- Put their client's interests ahead of their own
Every state has an agency or office responsible for disciplining attorneys and other legal professionals who violate the profession's ethics rules. The results of these disciplinary actions can include paying fines, returning stolen money, revocation or suspension of a law license, and more.
Disputes regarding legal fees are perhaps the most common problem that clients have with their lawyers. Fee disputes typically arise for many reasons, but the following are the most common:
- Complaints about bills being too high
- Disagreements over what kinds of fees the client is responsible for paying
- Disagreements over whether the attorney owed the client an itemized
- Concerns that a lawyer spent too long on a relatively easy task
- Arguing for a discount because an attorney did a "bad" job
- Billing at an attorney's rate for work done by a paralegal or legal secretary
When hiring a lawyer for your case, the first thing that you should do is get the fee agreement in writing that you can understand. If a term in the fee agreement is unclear to you, ask the attorney to re-write it in a more straightforward way. Even if your state does not require a written fee agreement, it is still a good idea to have one. If you do not want your dispute to end up in court, have the contract contain a mandatory arbitration clause so the dispute can occur in front of a neutral third party instead of in an imposing courtroom.
What You Should Expect From Your Lawyer
Lawyer communication, competency, ethics, and fees are important aspects of the attorney-client relationship. As a summary, you can expect your lawyer to do the following:
- Give you advice about your legal situation
- Stay in contact and keep you informed about your case
- Tell you what they think will happen in your case
- Allow you to make the important decisions regarding your case
- Give you an estimate about what your case should cost
- Assist you in any cost-benefit analyses that you may need
- Inform you of any changes, delays, or setbacks
- Give you the information you need to make good decisions
- Prepare you for your case, including deposition and trial preparation
What Your Lawyer Should Expect From You
Hiring a lawyer also creates a few responsibilities for you. As a client, your lawyer can expect you to the do the following:
- Abide by the agreements that both of you sign
- Gather all useful evidence and prepare any timelines the lawyer requests
- Keep your lawyer informed as to any new evidence that may come to light
- Keep in mind that your lawyer may have other clients that require their time
- Reply to requests from your attorney in a timely manner
- Inform your lawyer, in advance, when you will not be able to attend certain hearings or other proceedings
- Pay your bills on time
- Not lie to your attorney
- Keep your relationship with your attorney as a business relationship
As always, remember that you are in charge of the attorney-client relationship. If you have any concerns over the quality of your representation, you can raise them or look for new representation.