What to do when your lawyer won't return your calls or emails

When you hire an attorney, you probably have certain expectations regarding communication about your case. If you call or send an email, you expect a response within a reasonable amount of time. But when failure to return calls or answer emails becomes the norm, you may wish to break ties and seek new representation.

Evidence of a problem

Good communication is a cornerstone of a strong attorney-client relationship. Legal matters are stressful and clients expect regular case updates. Lack of communication is one of the leading reasons clients choose to seek a new lawyer. While lawyers are often busy attending court, meeting with other clients or preparing a case, persistently failing to return calls or emails can damage the relationship and case beyond repair.

As a client, track your attempts at communication to document the ongoing problem. Note the date and time of each call and who you spoke with. Unanswered emails can also serve as an electronic record of your lawyer ignoring you. A record of communication attempts can serve you well if acting against the lawyer later.

Terminating the relationship

Before terminating your relationship with your attorney, read your retainer agreement. The retainer agreement serves as a contract for services between you and your lawyer. It should clearly define the terms of your relationship and what happens if you chose to end it.

To end the relationship, send a written letter, preferably certified with a return receipt requested. The letter should explain your concerns with the lawyer's inattentive behavior and request a complete copy of your file. Even if you terminate your working relationship, the law requires the lawyer to give you a copy of your file. Keep in mind, the lawyer may charge a reasonable copying cost to reproduce the file for you.

Options for recovery

If your lawyer fails to handle your case competently, including intentionally ignoring you or by being too busy to work on your case, you may be able to take action through a legal malpractice suit. Poor communication alone is not grounds for a legal malpractice suit, but if your attorney stops working on your case altogether it could escalate to a malpractice suit.

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