Read Time: 6 Minutes When you hire a personal injury lawyer, you are placing your legal, financial, and perhaps even medical future in their hands. Unfortunately, attorneys are only human, and are capable of making mistakes just like anyone else. While in some cases these mistakes are innocent and easily fixable - like not filing enough copies of a document with the court - other times, the mistakes are willfully ignorant. When an attorney blatantly disregards legal ethics they are liable for facing serious disciplinary action, including losing the right to practice law. If you suspect your attorney of wrongdoing, continue reading to learn the top 10 most common personal injury lawyer ethics violations you should look out for - and what to do about it.
What Is an Ethics Violation?To protect the integrity of the legal system, each state has its own code of ethics that attorneys must follow. The American Bar Association (ABA) has established model rules of professional conduct expected of attorneys, and most U.S. states, including Florida, have incorporated them as part of their state laws. In the state of Florida, rules of discipline, ethics, and other policies fall under the Rules Regulating The Florida Bar (RRTFB). Drafted by the Supreme Court of Florida, these guidelines classify lawyer ethics violations into two separate concepts:
- Attorney Misconduct: Attorney misconduct is defined as unethical or illegal conduct by an attorney, such as over-billing a client or hiding evidence.
- Legal Malpractice: Legal malpractice occurs when a lawyer fails to competently, professionally, adequately, or zealously represent a client.
10 Most Common Personal Injury Lawyer Ethics ViolationsWhile attorney misconduct and legal malpractice are two separate wrongdoings, oftentimes, the most common ethics violations fall under the same umbrella. The 10 most common personal injury lawyer ethics violations include:
- Undisclosed conflict of interest
- Refusing to represent a client for political or professional motives
- Theft, misuse, or unauthorized "borrowing" of client funds
- Financial or other abuse of vulnerable or incapacitated clients
- Dishonesty in a fiduciary capacity, such as a guardian, trustee, or executor
- Lack of due diligence, such as missing the deadline to file a lawsuit
- Revealing confidential discussions with a client
- Hiding evidence or failing to disclose all relevant facts
- Sexual relationships between attorneys and client
- Improper termination of attorney-client relationship, including abandonment
How Can an Ethics Violation Affect Your Case?An ethics violation can irreparably sabotage your personal injury case. Attorney misconduct or legal malpractice can cause you to receive a lesser settlement amount than you deserve, cause you to lose your case, or even prevent the case from making it to a court of law in the first place. For example, when a personal injury lawyer fails to use the skill and care typically expected of a competent attorney, he or she could fail to prepare for trial, miss an important deadline, or fail to follow court orders. Likewise, an attorney can fail to act in your best interests and represent another client whose interests oppose yours. When your personal injury lawyer is not working diligently and honestly on your case, you could potentially lose out on the damages you're seeking.
What to Do If You Suspect Your Attorney of WrongdoingAt Weinstein Legal, our team has come across many clients who suffered through inadequate representation before they came to us for help. For some, suing their attorney for legal malpractice or attorney misconduct can be an effective way of getting compensation for their losses. Cases typically fall under three categories:
- Breach of contract
- Breach of fiduciary duty