How to Know if Your Lawyer is Selling You Out


Lisa Allen

Ever talked to a friend who wasn’t happy with their lawyer? There’s a big difference between attorneys who don’t communicate as often as clients would like and unethical behavior. If you suspect something’s amiss with your own case, here’s how to know if your lawyer is selling you out.

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Defining ‘Selling Out’

No one wants to feel like their lawyer is selling them out. And you might wonder exactly how to know if your lawyer is selling you out (or not).

Let’s start with the phrase “selling out.” To say that your lawyer is “selling you out” is to say that your lawyer is not acting in your best interest. This can span a wide range of behaviors. It could mean your lawyer isn’t paying enough attention to represent you or your case as well as they should. Or maybe your lawyer does something that intentionally harms your case, which results in a less-than-successful outcome for you.

There can be several reasons for a lawyer’s bad behavior. He or she might have too big of a caseload and simply can’t handle all the work. Maybe your attorney was dishonest about their litigation experience, so they’re not quite as ready for your case. They could also have a conflict of interest but refuse to admit that to you in your initial consultation.

Regardless of the reason or your lawyer’s intentions, when lawyers sell out their clients, the result is always the same. You, the client, feel ignored. Worse, your case either fails to resolve in your favor or drags on for far longer than it should.

Red Flags When Your Attorney Sells You Out

While every case is different, there are some common behaviors to watch out for if you believe your lawyer is selling you out.

A good attorney always has your best interests at heart. Here’s how to know if your lawyer is selling you out: Instead of communicating regularly, they avoid your calls or refuse to call you back.

Rather than demonstrating a clear understanding of your feelings and legal issues, they might give you confusing answers instead. This may indicate your attorney doesn’t normally accept cases similar to yours. This might also happen because your attorney doesn’t bother to learn all the particulars of your specific case.

Another red flag is when your attorney misses important events or deadlines, such as:

  • Court appearances
  • Failing to file required court paperwork on time
  • Showing up late to scheduled meetings or skipping them entirely

While some conflicts are unavoidable now and then, an attorney who misses court dates or meetings should concern you. If it happens more than once, that’s potentially how to know if your lawyer is selling you out.

What to Do If Your Attorney Ignores You

One of the most common ways to know if your attorney is selling you out involves ignoring all your meeting requests or phone calls.

Attorneys are bound to certain standards of communication by the American Bar Association (ABA). The ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct state lawyers shall communicate promptly and keep clients reasonably informed of case updates.

If your attorney fails to meet this standard and clearly ignores you, act quickly:

  1. Document your attorney’s behavior. Keep a log of phone calls and messages you leave, including the date, time, and to whom you spoke (if anyone).
  2. If it continues, communicate only through mailed letters that require a signature on receipt. Registered mail is your best option here, since it shows proof of your attempts to communicate in a timely manner.
  3. Visit your attorney’s office in person. If you choose to do this, remember to remain calm and polite no matter how irritated you feel inside.

What if Your Lawyer Doesn’t Show Up in Court?

There can be serious consequences if your attorney does not show up for court. It might draw out your case, so it takes even longer. In fact, it could negatively influence the judge’s opinion of both you and your attorney. If you face criminal charges, the judge could issue a warrant for your arrest when your attorney fails to appear. It all just depends on what type of case you hired that attorney to represent for you. If this happens during a civil case, the judge might simply continue the proceeding until a later date. This will give you time to talk with your attorney and try to determine the problem.

You should also advise the court that your attorney did not appear as you originally planned. If you’re in court that day, you can inform the judge on the spot. If not, you’ll need to do so just as soon as you find out.

But if it happens more than once, then it might be wise to look for new counsel. That new attorney can also advise on whether you may have a valid malpractice claim against your previous lawyer.

No matter what happens, it’s incredibly important to document your attorney’s behavior. Make sure your notes are as detailed as possible.

How to Know If Your Lawyer is Working For You, Not Against You

Just as there are clues for how to know if your attorney is selling you out, you’ll also see clear signs when they’re working on your behalf. Below are some green flags that let you know your attorney has your best interests at heart.

Constant Communication

Communicating regularly with any news about your claim shows your attorney is clearly invested in your case. This means your attorney should reach out to provide updates whenever they become available. In addition, your attorney should promptly respond to any messages and answer your questions in a timely fashion.

Your Lawyer Understands Your Legal Situation

An attorney who both knows the law that applies to your case and understands your situation well is likely more invested in your case. Be wary of any lawyer who forgets important details, has little to no relevant experience, or constantly interrupts you.

Much like surgeons, attorneys must be both experts in their specialized fields and able to instill confidence in their clients. Rushing you out of their office or taking outside phone calls during your in-person appointment are usually a bad sign. In fact, these behaviors may be one way to tell if your lawyer is selling you out.

Strong Credentials

Just like any other professional you’d hire for a job, making sure that your attorney has the right education, experience, and trustworthy recommendations are all crucial. You wouldn’t hire someone to build your house unless other people vouched for their abilities and reliable nature, correct? The same should be true of your attorney.

A good attorney should be able to provide testimonials from happy clients with resolved cases that closely resemble yours. Lawyers should also clearly explain what to expect if settlement negotiations fail and your case goes to trial instead.

How to Protect Yourself From an Incompetent Attorney

What should you do if an attorney can’t or won’t represent you or your case as well as you hoped? In that situation, it’s your responsibility to do something in order to protect yourself.

Before you hire an attorney, you should always check references and make sure that attorney is well-practiced in the legal area your case falls under.

Each state has a bar association that keeps attorney records. That database will tell you how long they’ve been in practice and if they’ve faced any public discipline.

It’s not uncommon for attorneys to face malpractice suits from former clients: four out of five will be sued at some point in their career.

It’s important to note, too, that 70% of malpractice cases involve small firms (those with 1-5 attorneys). Working with LegalASAP gives you access to a network of attorneys rather than a single small firm. Check online for reviews and interview attorneys before hiring them.

When you first meet, bring a list of questions to help you determine if this attorney’s the right fit.

Always keep notes throughout your case, even if your attorney is wonderful. This ensures you have all the necessary information should you need it in the future.

If you do discover that your lawyer is selling you out, then you have a few options. You can fire your attorney and hire a new one. You can ask your new attorney about filing a malpractice suit if the previous lawyer’s actions warrant it. And finally, you can also ask the court for more time, if needed.

Find a Replacement Attorney with LegalASAP

Now that you know how to tell if your lawyer is selling you out, the most important thing you can do is to get professional help. Working with a new attorney and being honest about your previous experience can minimize any lost time on your case.

To make sure you feel confident with a LegalASAP attorney before you commit, we offer a free consultation. If you’re ready to find out whether an attorney can help you, click the button below and sign up for a free phone call today.

Lisa Allen

Lisa Allen is a writer and editor who lives in suburban Kansas City. She holds MFAs in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry, both from the Solstice Low-Residency Program in Creative Writing at Pine Manor College. Prior to becoming a writer, Lisa worked as a paralegal, where she specialized in real estate in and around Chicago.