Navigating a personal injury case can be difficult, but it is even harder when you can’t trust your lawyer. While most attorneys are ethical, some take advantage of vulnerable clients who have suffered from a personal injury.
If you have hired a personal injury lawyer as the result of an accident, you are probably already taking legal action to hold someone accountable for their negligence. Depending on the seriousness of your injury, you may have growing medical bills that the insurance company refuses to pay. All of this pressure and stress can put you in a vulnerable position and unethical lawyers may try to exploit that.
If you think that your attorney is acting unethically, you should find a new personal injury lawyer before jeopardizing your case. Included below are the basics of attorney ethics, red flags to look out for and the problems with having a bad lawyer.
What are legal ethics?
Attorneys are required to follow a set of ethical rules established by the bar association in the state where they practice law. The bar association is a governing body that licenses attorneys and makes sure that all lawyers are competent, qualified and working legally.
When an attorney violates a rule, they are disciplined for that misconduct according to a certain procedure.
This procedure is usually similar to the process in the courtroom, as a trial. A complaint is usually first filed by a client, a judge, or another person who sees bad behaviour. The judge, or judges, will then hear the basis for the complaint against the lawyer and any evidence of the alleged misconduct.
The attorney then usually has an opportunity to defend themselves and make an argument for why they should not get into trouble. This can include calling witnesses or presenting physical evidence. The judge, or judges, decides on whether or not there was a violation. If found in violation, they also decide on an appropriate punishment.
In most states, the punishment for acting unethically can include:
- a fine
- a probationary period
- a temporary loss of law license in that state
- a permanent loss of the ability to practice law in that state
- an inability to practice law in other states
What are the signs of an unethical attorney?
There are many signs that your personal injury attorney might be taking advantage of you, or otherwise acting unethically.
If you can quickly identify how your attorney is acting unethically, you can put yourself in the best position to prevent further harm to your case by speaking up and intervening. Most importantly, you can hire a new lawyer in time to take the other’s place.
Listed below are several red flags that suggest you might have an unethical attorney. If you recognize any of these behaviours you should immediately look into hiring a new lawyer:
- not disclosing a personal or professional relationship with the opposing party
- overbilling for work that was not completed
- theft or misuse of your retainer or other legal funds
- missing important deadlines and forgetting to file documents
- revealing confidential information from your case or another client’s case
- lying to or intentionally hiding evidence from the court
What will happen to my case if my lawyer is unethical?
You won’t be surprised to learn that an unethical attorney can completely ruin your personal injury case. This can happen in many different ways depending on the specifics of your lawyer’s behaviour.
If your attorney is overbilling or misusing your money, any money you win will probably go to paying unfair legal bills at the end of the case. This can be devastating if you need the money for more important costs like medical bills and living expenses.
Some lawyers do not misuse funds, but don’t tell their clients about personal and professional relationships with other parties. If a lawyer has a relationship with the other party, it might create a conflict of interest. This means that the lawyer may not work as hard to get you the best settlement and outcome for your case because they are loyal to the other party.
Attorneys can also act unethically and ruin a client’s case through their own disorganization. If the lawyer is consistently missing important court deadlines, as a consequence you may not be able to make certain legal arguments, or the case might be dismissed. An attorney is expected to be competent and knowledgeable about filing requirements in the courts where they practice.
Regardless of the specifics, an attorney that is acting unethically is pursuing their own interests, instead of yours. This might be intentional bad acting or because they are lazy and taking shortcuts. Either way, their bad behaviour can affect your case.
The good news is that many courts will allow someone to hire a new lawyer in the middle of a case, as long as it is done promptly.
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