Did a past mistake by your lawyer cost you a lot of money? Has a former client sued you despite a favorable outcome?
Facing litigation is never fun for clients, and when a lawyer does his or her best to secure a win, a lawsuit brought by a former client can feel like a slap in the face. A legal malpractice lawsuit often signifies that no one was a winner in the underlying claim.
The most common disputes between lawyers and clients are about attorney fees. Although it is not possible to avoid every attorney-client fee dispute, it is important to start the representation with a written fee agreement. This contract should outline the obligations and duties of each of the parties, and will be the basis for resolving the fee dispute. In many cases, a well-written and clear fee agreement can prevent the misunderstandings that lead to legal malpractice claims.
Although fee disputes are the most common causes of legal malpractice litigation, there are many other reasons disputes can arise. The following are a few additional tips to help you avoid potential problems in your next attorney-client relationship, whether you are the lawyer or the client.
Tips for lawyers
While law schools may teach students how to apply and argue the law, that education may fall short of preparing young lawyers how to engage with potential clients. These tips may help you avoid disputes with your clients:
- Openly discuss your client's expectations prior to commencement of the representation: If a potential client has unrealistic expectations about the outcome of the claim, even great results will be a disappointment.
- Face the facts: Discuss the realities of the case from the start, and assess whether your client truly understands the implications of pursuing a lawsuit. Discuss both the good and bad facts with the client. Do not allow the client to discount the facts that may damage otherwise valid claims.
- Check your client's litigation history: A simple Google search may reveal previous malpractice lawsuits against former attorneys.
- Listen to your gut: After facing a legal malpractice suit or a grievance, many attorneys state they knew from the start that clients who later sued them would be difficult. Remember that a difficult client can cost you much more than the fees you can collect.
Tips for clients
Mistakes can and do happen in litigation, but many are not your fault. As the client, you should not have to pay the consequences for your lawyer's mistake, and most lawyers carry professional liability insurance to cover those rare expenses. A missed deadline, excessive charges on your bill or failure to communicate a settlement offer or other options can all be indications that something is wrong. Here are some things you can do to establish a good relationship with your lawyer and perhaps avoid or limit the impact of any mistakes:
- Don't expect miracles: Your lawyer is not a magician. In the majority of cases, it is the facts of your case and the applicable law - not your lawyer's skill - that will determine the outcome of your case. Just because your lawyer's name has been in the newspaper doesn't mean that she is the best lawyer for your case. Moreover, you should know that the lawyer with the most publicity actually lost the case, so be sure to keep reading. Also, be wary of lawyers who claim that they are "tough" or "a bulldog." An overly aggressive lawyer may be more harmful than helpful, and such behavior typically results in more fees for all clients involved.
- Be honest from the start: Reveal the good, the bad and the ugly details of your situation so that your lawyer will be prepared to handle them as they arise. Bad facts will not stay hidden forever. Give your lawyer the information necessary to address the weaknesses of your case from the outset. Trust is the hallmark of the attorney-client relationship.
- Be a part of the solution: Don't leave everything to your lawyer and law firm staff. Communicate your concerns and ask questions. Learn your options so that you can make informed decisions.
- Listen to your gut: Your claim can take months (even years) to resolve. As such, you will be working with your lawyers for a long time. If you are uncomfortable at the outset, your uneasiness will likely only increase. Do not be afraid to say "no." It is your case.
- Seek more than one opinion: There are many lawyers who practice in any given area of law. Before retaining a lawyer, meet with several lawyers so that you can understand the issues, observe the differences in each lawyer's style, discuss the fee structures available and understand the fees that you are likely to incur.
Is it too late to avoid a dispute? We can help.
If your lawyer did not do what he or she was required to do, or your client has filed a malpractice lawsuit at the conclusion of the case, an experienced legal malpractice litigation attorney can help you negotiate a solution.
At the Dallas, Texas, law firm of Nowak & Stauch, LLP, our attorneys can help you resolve your dispute with a former client or former lawyer. We have represented both clients and lawyers in legal malpractice cases, and we have even served as expert witnesses in those disputes. We have experience with the issues you are facing, and we are here to help.