No matter how long you practice law, you may always deal with clients who are unsatisfied. A verdict that doesn't go your way or a settlement that seems inadequate may raise accusations that you did not provide adequate representation. It may be understandable for your client to look for someone to blame, especially if the outcome of his or her case included a substantial loss, either financially or with a guilty verdict.
Before you shrug off the accusations as frivolous, remember that you may end up defending yourself in court if your client chooses to take action. Additionally, the State Bar of California may have something to say about allegations that you provided inadequate representation.
An honest appraisal
After responding to a disciplinary hearing letter or lawsuit, the next step is to examine your actions during the case. While no attorney is perfect, it is unacceptable for one to be incompetent or act with negligence to the detriment of a client. Ask yourself these questions to determine if you were in any way negligent in your representation of your client:
- Did you thoroughly investigate the case?
- Did you give adequate weight to witnesses by interviewing, preparing and carefully cross-examining them?
- Did you appropriately object to any of opposing counsel's statements or evidence that would negatively impact your client's case?
- Did you obtain any necessary tests or test results that would exonerate your client?
- Did you meet deadlines for appeals?
- In your representation of your client, did you avoid any conflicts of interest?
To prove incompetence or negligence, your client will have to prove that in making any errors, you denied the client a right to adequate counsel. Additionally, the client must show that your actions or behavior did not afford him or her a fair trial. While the burden of proof is on your client, you will want to be sure you have substantial documentation to show that your efforts were adequate and appropriate.
If the matter goes before the State Bar, you will certainly want to obtain counsel with experience in this realm. Disciplinary boards do not often follow the same rules you may find in a courtroom. Your best option for retaining your law license is to seek representation from an attorney whose practice is dedicated to State Bar defense.