Consumers' Guide to Legal Help
What should I do after I hire a lawyer?
Communication is very important to a successful lawyer-client relationship. If there are changes or developments that might affect the legal issue your lawyer is working on, you should tell him or her about it. On the other hand, you have the right to know the status of your case, and your lawyer should be willing to spend a reasonable amount of time informing you about any developments in your case.
Even with the best preparation, misunderstandings and disagreements can develop between clients and lawyers. If you don't understand something your lawyer has done, or you feel that he or she has not acted in your best interests, you should talk about this with him or her as soon as possible.
What can I do if I have a problem with my lawyer?
If you can't resolve a problem with your lawyer, consider the following options:
Mediation is a private, informal way to resolve a dispute. A mediator is a neutral third person who tries to aid disputing parties in reaching a mutually agreeable solution to their differences. Many state and local bar associations offer mediation services to help clients and lawyers work through their differences over fees, quality of service and other issues. These services are often free.
Many bar associations also operate arbitration programs to help clients and lawyers resolve disputes. Arbitration means the parties agree in advance to accept the decision of a mutually-selected arbitrator or panel of arbitrators. These services are often free, or impose only modest charges -- much less than the cost of a lawsuit.
You can file a complaint with your state lawyer disciplinary agency. There is an agency in each state that is responsible for investigating complaints about lawyers. If the lawyer is found to have violated an ethics or court rule, he or she will be reprimanded, fined, and perhaps suspended or disbarred (license to practice law revoked). Please note that lawyer discipline agencies cannot help you recover fees you have paid the lawyer, or to make the lawyer pay you for a loss you have suffered because the lawyer made mistakes in handling your case.
If you believe that a lawyer has made a serious mistake in handling your case and has caused you to suffer significant financial loss or injured your legal rights, you may want to sue the lawyer for malpractice. You will probably need to hire another lawyer to pursue such a suit.
Theft by a Lawyer
Most states operate a "Client Protection Fund" or "Client Security Fund" to help reimburse any clients who are defrauded by dishonest lawyers. These programs do not help clients in fee disputes, or pay for losses due to lawyer malpractice. These funds exist solely to reimburse -- to the extent possible -- clients when a lawyer fails to turn over client's money won in a lawsuit, or other money held in trust for the client.