Frequently Asked Questions about Legal Malpractice
Q: My lawyer originally said my case was worth over six figures, and now she’s telling me I should settle for a few thousand dollars. Can I sue her for the difference?
A: No. Your lawyer may have given you an inflated estimate of the value of your case to encourage you to hire her, or the strength of your case may have changed for certain reasons. If you feel that something doesn’t add up, you can get your file from your lawyer and get a second opinion from another lawyer.
Q: I found my lawyer through a newspaper ad, and I’m starting to wonder if that was a good idea. Are advertisements a good place to look for a lawyer?
A: Ads can be useful in finding a lawyer, but be careful about believing everything you read and hear. Newspaper, telephone directory, radio, and television ads can make you familiar with the names of lawyers who may be appropriate for your legal needs. Keep in mind that the lawyer may not be a “specialist” in the advertised field, and that your case may not have a simple solution. If a lawyer quotes a fee, be certain you know exactly what services the charge does and does not include.
Q: What are a lawyer’s main duties?
A: Speaking generally, a lawyer has two main duties: 1) to uphold the law; and 2) to protect a client’s rights.
Q: My attorney gave me some really confusing papers to sign. Why can’t legal documents be in a language that I understand?
A: Lawyers and others trained in the law often use legal terms as shorthand to express complicated ideas or principles. The words and phrases, many rooted in Latin, are often jokingly referred to as a foreign language, “legalese.” Although some legalese may be necessary in order to communicate certain ideas precisely, a document that is understood by very few of its readers is just plain poor communication. Many states have laws requiring that insurance policies, leases, and consumer contracts be written in plain English.
Q: My attorney said something about missing a filing deadline in my case. How do I know how long I have to file my lawsuit?
A: It depends on the type of case, and even who you are suing in some instances. Every state has its own time limits for filing a lawsuit, and even within a state the period of time in which you must file a lawsuit varies according to the type of claim. Many states give people one year from the date of injury to file a personal injury suit, while plaintiffs who sue for breach of a written contract claims may have four years from the date of breach to sue. If you are suing a government or government agency, you may need to file a claim for your injury within as few as 30 days.
Q: My lawyer settled my case without informing me or getting my okay. Can I sue him for this?
A: Yes, but you will need to show that the settlement your lawyer entered into was for less than your case was worth.
Q: If I have a legal problem, may I hire someone other than a lawyer?
A: In some specialized situations, such as bringing a complaint before a government agency, non-lawyers or paralegals may be qualified to represent you — and their services may cost less than a lawyer’s. Ask the government agency what types of legal representatives are available.
Q: I’m meeting with a lawyer to discuss my landlord-tenant case. What, in particular, should I ask about fees and costs?
A: How are fees charged — by the hour, by the case, or by the amount won? About how much money will be required to handle the case from start to finish? When must you pay the bill? Can you pay it in installments? Ask for a written statement showing specific services rendered and the charge for each.
Q: I’m a little surprised by my lawyer’s hefty bill this month. Isn’t most of a lawyer’s time usually spent arguing cases in court?
A: No. A lawyer normally spends more time in an office than in a courtroom. The practice of law most often involves researching legal developments, investigating facts, writing and preparing legal documents, giving advice, and settling disputes. Laws change constantly. New law is enacted and prior law is amended and repealed. For these reasons, a lawyer must put much time into knowing how the laws and the changes will affect each circumstance.
Q: My lawyer seems to have stopped working on my case. Is this malpractice?
A: The longer your attorney ignores you and your case, the more likely it is to amount to malpractice. You must act quickly to see that your case is properly handled, and get another lawyer if necessary. Writing or faxing a letter expressing your concerns and asking for a meeting is a good first step.
DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.