Arons & Solomon | February 6, 2021 | Family Law
Hiring a bad lawyer can make your life difficult. Fortunately, if you realize that you’ve partnered with the wrong attorney, there are steps that you can take to fix things and to make sure that the next one you work with does a better job.
If your legal representation does not meet your expectations, you should consider replacing your attorney as soon as possible. Working with the wrong lawyer could jeopardize your case and result in a less-than-favorable outcome.
Here are the top six signs that you hired a bad lawyer and the steps that you can take to find a good one.
What Exactly is a “Bad Lawyer”?
“Bad lawyer” is a broad term.
Used here, it means a lawyer who:
- Cannot perform the work you need
- Will not perform the work you need
- Cannot work with you
Any of these problems could interfere with your representation. If you do not have a good working relationship with your lawyer, you will have a difficult time winning your case.
Sign #1: There is Poor Communication
A lack of communication is one of the most common complaints that people have about lawyers. Lawyers can get busy.
However, New Jersey’s Rules of Professional Conduct require a lawyer to:
- Keep clients reasonably informed about the status of their cases, and
- Promptly respond to reasonable information requests.
An easy rule of thumb is that if a lawyer does not respond within a time frame you are comfortable with, raise the issue with the lawyer. If you are not satisfied that the lawyer has addressed the issue, you should consider replacing that lawyer.
Sign #2: There Are Billing Irregularities
Lawyers are required to provide you with a written explanation of the basis or rate for billing at the beginning of your representation. As the representation continues, you will receive periodic billing statements explaining what the lawyer has done and how much you have been charged.
Billing irregularities can be a sign of a bad lawyer.
Some examples to watch for include:
- Billing for work that was not done
- Overbilling for tasks
- Providing inadequate descriptions of the work performed
- Billing at an adjusted rate without telling you about the rate change
Billing problems are often a sign of other problems present in the lawyer’s firm. These problems could signify neglect of the lawyer’s bookkeeping or a more serious problem, like theft. In any case, billing problems are a clear sign that you should consider finding a different lawyer.
Sign #3: Work Just Doesn’t Get Done
Legal work is full of deadlines. Missing deadlines, filing incomplete work, and ignoring important incoming correspondence can put your case in jeopardy.
This problem can be difficult to detect, especially if your attorney lies to you. But if your case seems to have stalled, you should talk to your lawyer about what they have done in your case recently. You might find that your case has floundered because your lawyer has not completed the necessary tasks.
Sign #4: Your Lawyer Seems to Lose Often
Litigation includes some losses. No lawyer wins every motion that they file. But a lawyer who loses every motion might not know what they are doing.
If you believe that your lawyer lacks the knowledge or experience to handle your case, you should consider asking another lawyer for a second opinion. Lawyers can explain when an issue likely stems from your existing lawyer’s presentation style versus problems with their basic legal knowledge.
Sign #5: Your Property Disappears
Mishandling client property is the most common reason that lawyers get disciplined in New Jersey. Lawyers can mishandle client property deliberately or negligently. For example, your property could disappear through an accounting error.
But when a lawyer handles client property, that lawyer must exercise a high degree of care. As a result, anytime your property disappears, you should be concerned.
Sign #6: The Lawyer Doesn’t Fix the Problems You Face
Anyone can make a mistake. While a lawyer might not be able to correct every mistake, they can take steps to mitigate the impact of a mistake.
But sometimes a lawyer has bigger problems. Mental issues, substance abuse, and burnout can cause lawyers to neglect their practices.
Some signs to watch for include:
- The lawyer ignores you when you point out problems
- The lawyer does not take steps to fix problems that they’ve created
- The lawyer misses court hearings or disappears for extended periods of time
- The lawyer has disciplinary complaints on their record
If your lawyer has any of these problems, they probably need help and you probably need to look for a new lawyer before there is irreversible damage to your case.
What Are the Consequences of Working With a Bad Lawyer?
A bad lawyer could affect more than just your stress level. Bad lawyers could expose you to:
- Lost Cases: Bad legal advice could put you at a disadvantage, even if the facts are on your side. For example, failing to hire an expert witness or neglecting to gather evidence could result in an unfair outcome in a divorce.
- Missing Out on Important Legal Rights: When lawyers miss deadlines, your legal rights might be lost irretrievably.
- Sanctions: Unethical or dishonest behavior in court could expose you and your lawyer to judicial sanctions.
Bad lawyers can have a major impact on a case – and on your life for years to come. This is particularly true when you’re involved in a family law dispute that involves child custody, alimony, or other emotionally-charged and complicated matters.
How Can I Avoid Hiring a Bad Lawyer?
Most lawyers follow the rules and provide competent legal representation. Some of the ways that you can ensure your lawyer is not providing you with bad legal representation include:
Get a Referral
The top way that good lawyers get new clients is from word-of-mouth referrals from colleagues and former clients.
Interview Several Lawyers
Before you choose a lawyer, interview several candidates. You need to find a lawyer who provides good service and has a personality that will mesh with yours.
Discuss your legal needs with your lawyer at the outset of your case. Set the boundaries for how often you expect updates and what you expect from the lawyer. If the lawyer fails to fulfill your needs, act quickly before the problems spiral out of control.
Working with a good lawyer can be a rewarding experience. You should not struggle to work with a bad lawyer when you can hire someone who can achieve your goals with high-quality representation and counsel.