When Your Lawyer Goes M.I.A.

September 16, 2016

So you went to a lawyer, told him your troubles, and he (or she) agreed to help you. Perhaps the lawyer asked you for some money up front and you paid it. Now it has been three or four months, and you haven’t heard anything, or you’ve called and emailed but received no response as to what is going on with your claim. Or you ask for your money back and don’t get it or any explanation why you don’t get it. Or perhaps you’ve been told the case has been filed, but out of frustration you call the courthouse and learn that there is no case pending with your name on it.

Lawyers are human and make mistakes, and if a mistake by your lawyer harms you or your interests, he or she may have committed legal malpractice. Worse than the mistake itself may be a concealment of that mistake.

So what should you know or do in the event you suspect that your lawyer may not be handling your claim properly?

First, you should remember that there is a statute of limitations governing claims for legal malpractice. Any suit for legal malpractice must be filed within one year of the date you knew or should have known your lawyer did something wrong that harmed you. It is not good enough to tell the Bar Association or write a letter – a lawsuit must be filed in order for you to preserve your rights.

But how do you know that you might have to sue your lawyer? It is a process of investigation. First, you may not have made notes or kept copies of any emails or other communications to your lawyer about the status of your claim in the first weeks or months, but once you suspect something is wrong you should start recording in some manner your efforts to learn about your claim and the lawyer’s response or lack of response. For example, note on your calendar that you called lawyer X on such and such date, and what he told you.

Second, you should pay attention to your case yourself. If you know that your lawsuit asserting your claim has to be filed within one year from, say, the date of your auto accident, then as that anniversary approaches you should become more insistent on asking for information. If you are told the case has been filed, ask for a copy of the Complaint. If you don’t get it, or don’t get any response, you should write the lawyer a formal letter asking for a status report.

At some point you are going to wonder if your claim is being handled properly. You have the right to make a complaint to the Bar Association, but that will not preserve your rights to go against the other driver in the auto accident, or to file suit against your lawyer if he harmed your interests. The best thing to do at that point is to talk to another lawyer. He or she may be able to take over the claim and salvage it. He or she may be able to contact your lawyer on an informal basis and learn why your claim is not moving forward. He or she may break the news to you that your lawyer has been disbarred and that you only have to a certain date to sue the lawyer.

These are a few things to keep in mind when you are concerned about whether your lawyer is behaving in a professional and ethical manner in the handling of your interests. If you have questions or concerns, don't wait until it's too late. 


Author: Arnold Taylor -Senior Partner at O'Hara, Ruberg, Taylor, Sloan & Sergent.