What to Expect From Your Lawyer
Once you have found an attorney to handle an issue, you may be wondering what to expect with regards to lawyer communication, competence, ethics, and fees. This article outlines these topics and 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 his/her attorney. If you have a lawyer communication problem, you may be wondering if you have a bad attorney or if he or she is doing a poor job on your case. You should know that many states have laws regarding when and how a lawyer 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 in a timely manner. If your attorney does not respond within a business day, he or she should provide you with a reason why they were unable to answer your question (typically, if your lawyer is working on multiple cases, he or she may be tied down in court on some days).
If your attorney fails to communicate effectively with you, then you may have valid cause for your worries. For example, if your attorney refuses to keep you updated on what is happening with your case, or fails to return your repeated phone calls over the course of a week with no explanation, then you most likely have valid cause to discuss your lawyer communication problem with your attorney. If your attorney is not responsive to your worries, then you may want to consider finding another legal representative for your situation.
In addition to lawyer communication problems, you may also have problems with the competency of your lawyer's work. Competency relates to the core knowledge and expertise of an attorney in handling a client's legal issue.
You should remember that lawyers are not machines and they are just as capable of making a mistake as anyone else is, meaning that there is never a guarantee that your attorney will perform flawless work. Remember that after your attorney passed your state's bar exam, he or she probably has not had to take a test since. Even truer, passing the bar exam is not guarantee that your lawyer is competent to represent you in court.
Many bar associations claim that they handle issues regarding the competency of lawyers, but you will often not receive much more than a shrug if you complain about your attorney's work. State bar associations are generally understaffed to investigate whether or not an attorney is working in such a way as to competently represent you.
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 being harmed. In these situations, you have the option of suing your attorney and claiming that he or she did not act in a reasonably competent manner. These mistakes can be procedural in nature, such as not filing your lawsuit on time, or ethical in nature, like representing two sides of a divorce at the same time without notifying either side. However, as the laws are set up, malpractice lawsuits are generally quite expensive to pursue (you will probably have to hire another attorney to represent you), and very hard to win.
Although each state has their own set of ethical rules by which attorneys are expected to conduct their business, there are some common themes that run throughout all of them. 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 interest loyally
- Work within the bounds of the law
- Maintain separate bank accounts for client money
- Not engage in any criminal activities, and
- Put their client's interests ahead of their own
Every state has some kind of agency that is responsible for disciplining attorneys and other legal professionals that violate the ethical rules that govern. The results of these disciplinary actions can include paying fines, returning stolen money, suspension from the practice of law, revocation of a law license (disbarment) and more.
Disputes regarding attorneys' 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 would be charged to the client
- Disagreements over whether an itemized bill would be given
- Concerns that a lawyer spent too long on a task that should have been relatively easy
- Argument that because an attorney did a bad job, the bill should be reduced
- Billing at an attorney's rate for work done by a paralegal or legal secretary
- Complaints regarding over-charging for time spent on a case.
The first thing that you should do upon finding and hiring the right lawyer for your case is to make sure that you 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 way that is clear and understandable to you. Even if your state does not require a written fee agreement, it is still a good idea to have one. In addition, if you do not want to have your fee dispute end up in court, be sure that a mandatory arbitration clause is included in the fee agreement so that the dispute can take place 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 an attorney-client relationship. As a summary you can expect your lawyer to do the following:
- Give you advice about your legal situation
- Keep you informed about your case
- Tell you what he or she thinks 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
- Keep in communication with you
- Inform you of any changes, delays or setbacks
- Give you the information you need to make good decisions, and
- 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. 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 that are requested
- 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 need his or her 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 to lie to your attorney, and
- Keep your relationship with your attorney as a business relationship.