When life throws a curveball – like a car accident or slip and fall – it is helpful to have an experienced, competent attorney on your side. Having a great attorney means peace of mind in stressful situations. Having a bad attorney makes an already stressful situation worse. But evaluating your working relationship with your attorney is a healthy process. It can be a starting point in making improvements to an existing working relationship or finding another attorney.

Too often, an unhappy client will continue in an attorney-client relationship in the hopes that something will improve. This can prove to be a costly mistake, both in terms of the representation and in terms of its outcome. Here are some issues to consider when trying to determine if you have hired a bad attorney.

Communication Problems

Communication is a key component of effective representation. Attorneys are busy people. But if your attorney took on your case, that attorney must keep you informed regarding the status of your legal matter.

Unreturned phone calls, unanswered emails, and texts can all mean trouble in an attorney-client relationship. Sometimes, these can be a sign of differing expectations regarding communication between the attorney and client. Other times, these can be a sign of an attorney who is feeling overwhelmed with other cases while sidelining yours. Worse yet, these can be a sign of a decaying legal practice, or an attorney who has ceased to care about his or her clients.

Billing Issues

Billing should always be made clear before representation begins. The way the attorney bills, whether hourly or on contingency, should be clearly explained and understood. This includes how costs will be handled.

When being billed hourly, every billing entry must be accompanied by a clear explanation of how the time was used. Unclear or generic billing entries raise billing concerns. Likewise, an attorney who typically “rounds up” or uses a standardized amount when billing for a task raises concerns. A phone call may not always take 15 minutes.

Any unexpected billing should always be fully explained as well. When it is not, or when unexpected items keep appearing, it can be a bad sign. This can be a failure on the part of the attorney or a misunderstanding. It can also be a sign of an attorney who is overbilling or skimming costs from his or her clients.

Lack of Trust

When hiring an attorney, it is imperative that a client trusts that attorney. A client places their future into the hands of their attorney. Anything that an attorney does to abuse that trust causes an erosion in the attorney-client relationship and is a clear sign that a client may be in the wrong hands.

If an attorney lies to the client, fails to return phone calls, decides on a different course for the case, or overbills, or does anything else to lose the client’s trust, the representation may be in trouble.

Different Visions of the Outcome

It is vital that an attorney and client work as a team. That means having the same vision of the representation. If a client sees the value of a personal injury case very differently from his or her attorney for instance, this difference could cause real problems when it comes to resolving the case.

The client makes the decisions in the case with their attorney’s guidance and counsel. When the attorney starts to make decisions that belong to the client, it is a clear sign of a badly functioning working relationship.

How to Choose the Right Attorney Next Time

Clear communication is always key in the initial meeting with an attorney and throughout the relationship. It is helpful for a client to prepare a list of questions in preparation for any meeting with an attorney. These questions might revolve around an attorney’s experience, fee structure, investigative process, how the attorney sees liability and damages in your personal injury case, and how the attorney likes to communicate with their clients. If an attorney is evasive in their answers, move on to the next attorney on your list. Remember that you are hiring the attorney.

Finally, sometimes a client needs to go with their gut when interviewing an attorney for potential representation. We can pick up on subtle cues in body language and tone of voice that are sometimes hard to pinpoint but which can leave a client with a distinct impression about a person.

Once you hire an attorney, don’t be afraid of asking for the information that you need in order to feel comfortable about the representation. In the end, it is your case, and your attorney wants you to be happy with the outcome.