Know Your Seven Basic Rights
Finding the right lawyer for your case is far from easy. If you had gone to law school and had experience handling personal injury cases, you probably wouldn’t be looking for an attorney. When you hire your attorney, what you are paying for is the experience and knowledge that comes with years of dealing with cases like yours. You place all your trust and confidence in your lawyer and hope for the best.
That’s okay if you’ve known your lawyer for a long time and you know you can trust them based on your personal relationship. But what if you found your lawyer in a TV ad or on a website? Can you trust them? How do you know if your lawyer is telling the truth?
Busy personal injury attorneys can be difficult to get on the phone, and won’t always give you a straight answer when you do talk to them. Unfortunately, most people just hire an attorney and hope for the best.
It’s time to level the playing field with your lawyer. There is just one way to do this: learn your rights.
#1: You have the right to be treated with dignity and respect by your lawyer
First and foremost, you have the right to expect professional conduct from your lawyer. In my profession, abusive and disrepsectful behavior towards a client should never happen. Unfortunately, it sometimes does occur. If your lawyer is not treating you with dignity, or abuses you verbally or otherwise, you should fire your lawyer.
To effectively pursue your case, your lawyer will need your absolute trust and confidence. State bar associations have developed extensive rules and procedures detailing how clients should be treated by lawyers. These rules are meant to protect clients who might have to share sensitive personal information with their lawyer. All licensed lawyers are required to maintain the highest level of professional conduct and trust. You have an absolute right to be treated with dignity by your lawyer.
#2: You have the right to fire your lawyer at any time, without explanation
You are not committed to your lawyer for life by signing the fee agreement. You can fire your lawyer whenever you feel like it. No explanation or apologies are needed. You don’t even have to speak with your lawyer if you don’t want to.
You always have the exclusive right to fire your lawyer regardless of the fact that you signed a fee agreement. The fee agreement does not force you to keep your lawyer.
If you don’t trust your lawyer and want to find another lawyer to handle your case, just do it. The fee agreement does not prevent you from firing your lawyer and you will not have to pay “two legal fees” when you hire a different lawyer for your case. At the end of your lawsuit, your new lawyer will split the legal fee with your first lawyer, but the total amount of the legal fee remains the same.
#3: You have the right to absolute confidentiality from your lawyer
Clients place a lot of trust in their lawyers. In some cases, clients have to tell their lawyers things that they would not tell their spouse. You have the right to insist that everything you tell your lawyer is strictly confidential — not just verbal communication, but all written correspondence and emails as well. Your communications with your lawyer and his staff are protected by the attorney-client privilege.
If you question the integrity or honesty of your lawyer, you should terminate the attorney-client relationship. If your lawyer is not honest with you, it’s time to find a new lawyer.
If you believe your lawyer has been dishonest or unethical, you should file a complaint against your lawyer with The Washington State Bar Association. The Bar Association reviews complaints against lawyers and protects consumers against dishonest lawyers.
To begin the process of filing a complaint, go to http://www.wsba.org/Licensing-and-Lawyer-Conduct.
#4: You have the right to know what’s going on with your case
Your file includes every document, whether electronic or paper, relating to your case. Your file does not belong to your lawyer. It’s yours and you have the right to a complete copy whenever you want. Your lawyer cannot ethically refuse to let you review your file.
You also have the right to status reports about your case once every four to six weeks. If you don’t know the status of your case and your lawyer won’t tell you, it’s time to consider finding a new lawyer.
You have the right to get answers from your lawyer in writing within a reasonable time of your request. You have the right to meet or speak with your lawyer within a reasonable amount of time unless the lawyer is engaged in a trial at the time of your request.
If your lawyer will not meet or speak with you within that timeframe, it’s time to find a new lawyer. You have the right to a face-to-face meeting with your lawyer if you prefer a meeting instead of a telephone consultation. Most attorneys will give you guidelines about when and how you can set up time to talk with them. If they do not operate within those guidelines, or never give you direction to begin with, you might want to consider getting a new lawyer.
#5: You have the right to get an itemized list of all case expenses from your lawyer at any time and without giving a reason
You have the right to know that your lawyers are spending your money wisely.
During your lawsuit, your lawyer will typically spend money on filing fees, expert witnesses, private investigation and deposition transcripts in connection with your case. Your lawyer will likely not alert you to each and every expense. You should know, though, that the money being spent is your money.
At the end of the lawsuit, you will have to reimburse your lawyer for the case expenses (you can find specifics in your fee agreement). You have the right to a complete, itemized list of the case expenses at any time. The “list of costs” should show the date of every case expense, where the money was spent, the amount of each expense, and the purpose of the expense. You even have a right to request a copy of each invoice that was paid by your lawyer. You might also want to sit down with your lawyer to review the list of case expenses and reasons for each one.
#6: You have the sole and exclusive right to determine whether you settle your case
You make the decision whether to settle, not your lawyer. You can’t dictate how your lawyer handles your lawsuit on a day-to-day basis. However, your lawyer is acting as your agent. When it comes to the ultimate decision of whether to settle or go to trial, your lawyer can only make recommendations for you. You can accept or reject your lawyer’s recommendation, even if that means ignoring their advice.
Remember, you hired a trial lawyer. When you hired them, you had the right to expect that your lawyer was willing to go all the way for your case, including presenting your case at trial and letting a jury or judge decide your fate. If your lawyer is not willing to present your case for trial, he can be fired “for cause”, which means he will not get any legal fee.
Your net recovery is the only number that should matter to you when you consider a settlement. Your net recovery is the amount of the check that you will receive after all expenses have been paid. After deducting case expenses, legal fees, liens, and subrogation claims, the remaining amount is your net recovery.
For example, if your case settles for $300,000, the disbursements are $20,000, the legal fee is $82,500, and the lien is $10,000, then your net recovery will be $187,500.
Liens and subrogation claims must be paid from your portion of the recovery and thus, they will reduce the amount of your net recovery. A lien is a claim usually made by your health insurance against the expenses of your medical treatment. Liens and subrogation claims are ugly terms for plaintiffs’ lawyers. When you have a long hospitalization, there is an excellent chance you will be faced with a lien. You should be kept informed of the amount of the liens and subrogation claims throughout your lawsuit.
#7: You have the right to personal attention from your lawyer
As can happen at many large personal injury firms, a top trial lawyer will greet a client at the first meeting, then pass them off to the new junior associate just out of law school, or a paralegal.
At your first meeting with the trial lawyer, ask, “Will you be handling my lawsuit?” Even better, ask, “Will you be handling the depositions and the trial?” Get a firm commitment. You might also ask, “If I have any questions about my case, will you be available to answer them? Can I meet with you whenever I want?”
This one of the many reasons we limit the number of cases we take at Premier Law Group. In our minds, the best results are achieved by clients working directly with their attorney. Ask the questions we mentioned above and confirm your understanding with a letter, which you ask the lawyer to sign.
Your rights are important!
The vast amount of lawyer advertising can be confusing, and sadly, not every lawyer is competent or qualified for your unique case. Most clients are not aware of their rights, and not every lawyer will take the time to inform their clients of their basic rights. The number one way to protect your basic, legal rights is to get informed. Make sure your lawyer is doing his job and you will be head and shoulders above others in your shoes. Would you like to know more about selecting a lawyer for your case? Order our FREE, no-obligation book, The Shocking Truth About Lawyer Advertising, by filling out the form below.