Why won’t the attorney take my case?
Persons in need of legal services research and interview potential attorneys prior to hiring; so too do attorneys assess cases before accepting. Attorneys have their own individual standards and reasons for either accepting or rejecting a case.
Attorneys will usually not accept a case that requires knowledge outside of their customary areas of practice. Otherwise, the attorney’s lack of expertise can result in an unfavorable outcome for the client and a malpractice claim against the attorney. Furthermore, even if the attorney discloses to the client that a case presents novel issues to the attorney and the client is willing to accept the associated risks, the attorney might not have sufficient time to study a new area of law. Just as a dermatologist would not treat a heart issue and instead refer the patient to a cardiologist, similarly, the attorney and the client would both be better off involving an attorney practicing in the applicable area of law.
Attorneys are also required to avoid conflict of interests. Therefore, if the potential client’s interest conflicts with an existing client’s interest, or even the attorney’s interests due to personal or professional relationships, the attorney is not allowed to accept the case.
The expiration of the statute of limitations can also preclude an attorney from accepting a case. At times, nothing can be done to help the client because the statute of limitations has passed already. The statute of limitations is law which sets the maximum time allowed to start legal proceedings from the date of the incident. The statute of limitations varies depending on the type of case as well as the individual state’s laws. If a client waits too long, it might be too late for the attorney to be able to assist in any way.
When litigation is necessary, the attorney might not accept a case if the attorney does not believe that it is winnable; mainly because such engagement would waste the client’s money on a lost cause, but also because of the potential for lost resources of the attorney. In a litigated case, the attorney must assess the facts of the case, the ability to prove them, as well as the potential client who may have to testify in front of a jury. If the opposing side has a strong defense, if the client is not credible, or if the client’s case has been rejected or dropped by other attorneys, it might suggest to the subsequent attorney that the case is weak or the client’s expectations are unreasonable.
Occasionally, the case itself might be winnable, but the costs outweigh the benefits. Cases, especially the litigated ones, often require the attorney to advance costs of expert witnesses and discovery, not to mention numerous hours of work. Some cases require an unproportionally large amount of work to the expected financial recovery. Occasionally, accepting a case might tarnish the attorney’s reputation or relationships in the legal community. Therefore, before accepting the case, the attorney must evaluate whether the case has potential to recuperate the invested funds, produce profit, and advance the attorney’s reputation.
Lastly, accepting a new client means beginning a new working relationship. An attorney is not required to take a client’s case and if the attorney feels that the attorney’s and client’s personalities conflict, their professional relationship would likely be unproductive as a result.
If an attorney does not accept the case, a client always has an option to consult with another attorney and find representation that fits their needs.
Natalia Vander Laan is a Minden attorney and owner of Vander Laan Law Firm