The average person cannot navigate the court system without help. Lawyers have years of school so that they understand statutes and legal precedent. Trying to make sense not only of the actual laws but also the history of how the courts have interpreted the laws is difficult without professional help.
When you decide to hire an attorney, you know that you may need to make a significant financial investment. Whether you are about to defend yourself against criminal charges or litigate your divorce, you depend on your attorney to help you navigate the complex legal system. Many lawyers require a retainer before they will take your case.
You will likely pay several thousand dollars upfront, and they will bill you in specific increments for the time they spend on your case. There are rules that apply to your retainer, though, and if your attorney mishandled those funds, their conduct may open them up to a legal malpractice claim. What are the rules regarding a retainer?
A retainer is subject to certain restrictions
Your retainer should not end up commingled with funds paid by other clients of the same attorney. They should maintain the account separately and provide you with a thorough record of every deduction that they make from the account.
Both the failure to use the right account and improperly billing you for more time than they actually spent on your case could be a violation of state laws and attorney ethics regarding your retainer.
How do you prove a lawyer mishandled your retainer?
Asking for a detailed bill breaking down how your attorney spent your retainer is an important first step if you believe that they mishandled your funds. For example, they may have billed you for a quarter of an hour to send a five-word email to you, which could be an inappropriate use of your resources.
If they cannot provide an accurate accounting of when and how they provided services, you may be able to take them to court for failure to follow industry standards. Recognizing when your attorney’s financial behavior becomes legal malpractice can help you hold them accountable for questionable behavior.