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Signs you hired a wrong attorney

by Natalia Vander Laan

In a perfect world, after the vetting process is conducted taking into account public reviews and recommendations of family and friends, the following initial consultation with that carefully selected attorney will always create a successful attorney-client relationship. In reality, even when exercising all necessary due diligence, such a relationship can still fail. So, what are the signs of an unproductive attorney-client relationship? 

A major sign is a lack of communication. Oftentimes, clients feel that their phone calls are not being returned and their questions are not being answered. Like most professionals, attorneys are busy, but being so does not excuse them from ignoring clients. However, this does not mean that every attempt to communicate with one’s attorney has to be addressed immediately by that attorney. The attorney might be busy in court or in a meeting and therefore unable to answer a call or respond to an email from the client. While the client does have the right to expect to hear back from the attorney within a reasonable time, it is also inconsiderate and inappropriate to contact one’s attorney after hours and expect an immediate response when there is no emergency. 

The client should also remember that most attorneys charge for any communication with the client. Therefore, it is important for the client to differentiate between a lack of communication from their attorney and any expectations for constant updates, especially when there is nothing for the attorney to report. However, if the client does not know what is going on in their case or if the client is unable to get an answer to a question, and this occurs frequently, maybe it is time to seek a different attorney.



Similarly, red flags should be raised by the client if there is no progress in the case, nothing is filed with the court, no dates are planned, or no documents are drafted, unless the reasons for such inactions are justified and were reasonably explained to the client. Of course, in almost every case, there are periods of stagnancy caused by required court procedures, necessary waiting periods, or even opposing party delays. But, when the client notices that their retainer is vanishing and there is no actual work to show for it, such an attorney-client relationship should be reevaluated for ineffectiveness. 

Another cautionary sign is the lack of a plan of action. From as early as the initial consultation, after becoming familiar with the facts of the client’s case, the attorney should be able to present the client with a plan for how to proceed with the legal matter. Sometimes, the attorney needs to conduct additional legal research to create such plan or, sometimes, the plan will be formed as various alternatives in response to changing circumstances. Regardless, it is always fair for the client to expect to know what the next step in the case will be. 



While the attorney-client relationship is a professional one, the matters at issue are often sensitive and personal; therefore, a certain level of empathy from the attorney is expected. The best attorneys create a sense of care in the attorney-client relationship. If the client feels that the attorney is indifferent to their personal situation, it might not be a good sign for the future of such relationship. Similarly, personality conflicts should not be ignored. The attorney-client relationship might be long-lasting and, therefore, it is essential that the cooperation and interaction are also pleasant. 

There are many ways to practice law and nurture the attorney-client relationship. Like in any professional arrangement, it is important that both parties are satisfied with their relationship. 

Natalia Vander Laan is a Minden attorney and owner of Vander Laan Law Firm