When a hopeful young graduate leaves law school and passes the bar, they are presumed to be competent enough to handle even complex cases. As such, many newly minted attorneys choose to set out on their own and start a small law practice for themselves, sometimes with the help of a classmate or other attorneys who they know.
However, the truth is that many aspects of the law are very complex and it takes years of experience and hard work to fully understand them. The same goes for litigation – it takes years of practice and mistakes to become an effective litigator. This is why when an attorney takes on a case that they later realize they may not be able to handle, professional responsibility standards require that they seek help.
This is what happened in a personal injury case taken on by two recent law school graduates who are now facing a possible suspension from the bar association because of what happened next.
After taking on a case by a woman who was injured when she fell on the sidewalk outside of a church, the two attorneys realized that the case didn’t quite fit the requirements of the law they had sued under and that they wouldn’t have the right evidence to prove what they needed to prove. In response, they withdrew that case and advised their client to change the facts so that they could sue a homeowner across the street from the church.
When they realized they couldn’t take the case all the way to trial, they asked another attorney to step in but purged the file of the previous version of the facts beforehand. The misconduct was discovered and the two will now face being prohibited from practicing law for a period of time.
Clients should know that it is never okay for an attorney to ask them to lie, particularly when the attorney stands to gain financially from that lie. Not only is this bad advice that could ruin the case and lead to perjury allegations, it is also possible legal malpractice.
Source: ABA Journal, “Attorneys who helped client change story by ‘explaining’ the law get 9-month suspensions,” Martha Neil, May 15, 2013.