Legal malpractice can impact people who have used an attorney whose unprofessional actions or inactions hurt their legal case or their finances. Whether they needed help defending against criminal charges or responding to a pending lawsuit, mistakes made by a client’s lawyer may have resulted in an unfavorable outcome.
Lawyers are not automatically responsible for an unfavorable outcome in any legal matter, but they must adhere to current professional standards to avoid personal liability. For example, it is important for attorneys to do proper research before a case so that they understand the relevant laws and precedents. They also have to abide by ethical standards for their profession. Those standards include an obligation to disclose any conflict of interest and to engage in appropriate billing practices.
What should happen with a client’s retainer?
One of the many situations that might lead to a viable claim of legal malpractice involves the misuse of someone’s retainer. Many attorneys request a retainer based on their hourly rates and what they believe it will cost to resolve a legal matter for a client. Retainers are often thousands of dollars, and clients have to pay that amount when they begin the relationship with their lawyer.
The attorney must deposit retainer funds into a separate financial account, much like the escrow accounts used by landlords to hold security deposits. The retainer funds do not belong in a general financial account for the legal practice or the lawyer’s personal bank account. They hold the funds in trust for future billing purposes.
Lawyers can bill against the retainer until they have consumed all of it. At that point, they can then require additional payments from their clients. Actionable mistakes with retainers could include failing to keep the funds separate from other money and billing too much to intentionally use up all of a client’s retainer.
When those who have paid a substantial amount of money for legal representation believe that their lawyer violated basic rules, they may be in a strong position to take legal action against the attorney who violated best practices while representing them. A legal malpractice lawsuit can potentially compensate clients who paid more than they should have for legal services. Being able to identify legal malpractice can help people hold their attorneys accountable for unprofessional and unethical conduct.