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December 03, 2020

When Things Go Wrong

When you agree to hire a lawyer and that lawyer agrees to represent you, a two-way relationship begins in which you both have the same goal: to achieve a satisfactory resolution of your legal matter.

You have the right to expect competent representation from your lawyer. However, every case has at least two sides. You cannot always blame your lawyer if the case does not turn out the way you thought it would. If you are unhappy with your lawyer, it is important to determine the reasons. If you believe you have a genuine complaint about your legal representation, there are several things you can do.  The following questions and answers should provide you some guidance on these issues.

I am upset with the way my lawyer handled my case. Can I file a complaint?

Yes. Lawyers can be disciplined for violating ethical guidelines.

Military attorneys are bound by the same ethical standards as civilian attorneys; there are no “military exceptions” to attorney ethical and professional standards.

Where can I file a complaint against my lawyer?

If you believe you have a valid complaint about how your lawyer has handled your case, inform the organization that grants or withholds licenses to practice law in your state. Usually this is the disciplinary board of the state supreme court. You may find the board's contact information under the government listings for your state in the phone book or online. You can also obtain its location from the local bar association. The ABA's Center for Professional Responsibility also has a listing of lawyer disciplinary agencies.

If your complaint is against a military legal assistance attorney, you can file a complaint with the attorney's military supervisor or with the Judge Advocate General (the senior military attorney) for the appropriate branch of service.

Making a complaint of this sort may result in a disciplinary action against the lawyer (military or civil) for misconduct, but it will probably not help you recover any money.

How can I get money to compensate me for my lawyer's misconduct?

You may have to file a malpractice suit against your lawyer. Being successful in a malpractice suit is not always easy; simply proving that your lawyer did not win your case won't be enough. You may also have the right to receive compensation from a client security fund. These funds may reimburse clients if a court finds that their lawyer has defrauded them. Lawyers pay fees to maintain such funds. Your local bar association or the state disciplinary board can tell you how to contact the correct client security fund for your claim. Be aware however, that most state client security funds divide up the money that is available in a given period of time among all the clients who have valid claims. As a result, there is rarely enough money to pay 100 percent of every claim. Your best bet is to hire a lawyer you feel comfortable with and who has expertise in your case area.