There seems to be an unwritten rule that lawyers need to watch each other's backs. It is the notion that we as colleagues, perhaps even members of an exclusive club, should look the other way to the possibility that a lawyer could injure her client by making a mistake. Some even take it as far as supposing that it is our duty as lawyers to white-wash or cover up our fellow brethren's errors.
At the risk of getting my "Good ol' Boy" card revoked, (though it probably is no surprise to those of us who truly care about the clients we serve, this is a "club" we will never become a member of) I write this blog. For lawyers reading this article (and I know you are out there), allow me to offer you some perspective:
- First, when a client hires an attorney to represent them in a matter, it is a sign that she trusts and respects you and needs your help.
- Second, lawyers take on cases regularly that they are not qualified to handle.
- Third, many times lawyers make errors that destroy the claims of their trusting clients.
- Fourth, sadly, most lawyers, after discovering their error, choose to deceive their clients about their malpractice, rather than owning up to and accepting personal responsibility for their mistake. Many clients are completely oblivious to the consequences of their lawyer's error for years after the malpractice occurs. Mistakes happen. But for lawyers to attempt to hide their errors from their client is shameful.
A) TYPES OF CLAIMS:
There are basically two types of legal malpractice: 1) lawyer errors that result in a client's case being dismissed or 2) errors that substantially de-value a client's claim. Both types of legal malpractice should be properly explored to determine whether the case against that lawyer is worth pursuing.
B) CLUES THAT YOUR LAWYER IS TRYING TO KEEP HIS ERROR FROM YOU:
The practice of law can be complicated. So, usually, a lawyer's error is going to be discovered first by the lawyer. Often, the lawyer will try his best to keep you from learning about the error. But, like most imperfect murders, there are usually signs that something is afoul. For instance:
1) Your very responsive lawyer, who used to always return your calls, now never returns your call ... like he's trying to avoid you.
2) Your lawyer calls you in for a meeting. Whereas in the past he was very positive about your case, now he is suddenly inexplicably completely negative about your case.
3) You get one or more letters from your attorney confirming discussions with you that really do not accurately reflect the conversation.
4) Your lawyer asks you to sign blank or partially blank legal documents without a satisfactory explanation as to why. There is no occasion where you should be signing anything that is blank or incomplete.
5) You get a very complicated and confusing letter which basically speaks over your head but appears to be telling you that your case is over.
6) Your lawyer starts putting extreme pressure on you to settle your case. It seems like it's really no longer your choice and your lawyer just won't accept "no" for an answer.
7) Your lawyer refuses to allow you to look at your file.
8) You receive excuse after excuse as to why your case cannot be set for trial. You go a year or more with no certain date for trial.
9) Your lawyer sends you a letter saying that he is going to need to quit your case and informs you that his legal license has been suspended.
10) Your attorney sends you a bill for the other side's attorney fees and asks that you pay those expenses.
In truth, there might be legitimate reasons for this sort of unusual conduct. But it is better to be vigilant and skeptical when it comes to this stuff. Ask questions, follow up with the court clerk to confirm things are still on track with the case, and don't be afraid to go get a second opinion on anything that gives you cause for alarm.
C) HOW TO PROTECT YOURSELF:
In as much as this might seem paranoid to say, never blindly trust anyone. Make them earn your trust. Remain inquisitive, actively involved in your case, and ask questions even if you think the question might make you look silly. If anything starts feeling funny to you, consider calling another law firm and ask if you could meet with an attorney to review what is going on in your current case.
D) THE FIRST STEP TO REPAIRING THE DAMAGE:
Colorado legal malpractice laws allow you to recover not only the value of the loss created by the error, but also permits you to recover damages for the emotional upset for having been lied to or simply emotionally let down by your former attorney. The first step is to have your case, the entire file, and certainly the attorney's conduct reviewed by another lawyer. The question is whether there was a deviation in the attorney standard of care. If the answer is yes, and that deviation caused you a loss, then you have a case against your attorney.
At Anderson, Hemmat & McQuinn L.L.C. we are not part of anyone's "Good Ol' Boy's Club." We will always be straightforward in our evaluation of your former lawyer's prior handling of your matter. You likely have already been the victim of someone's negligence; otherwise you wouldn't have hired an attorney. You don't deserve to be victimized again. If you have questions about how your case was handled and would like to have it evaluated, please call us and speak to one of our attorneys today.