Securing the support of a lawyer is a significant investment. People often pay hundreds of dollars per hour for the guidance of a licensed legal professional in matters ranging from divorce to civil lawsuits. Yet, lawyers sometimes fail to act in the best interests of their clients and may even cause harm to them. Legal malpractice frequently entails unprofessional conduct or a failure to do one’s job appropriately. However, sometimes legal malpractice involves financial misconduct instead.
Many lawyers require a large retainer from their new clients. A retainer is a lump sum paid upfront to secure the services of a legal professional. Any of the three mistakes below with a client’s retainer might lead to claims of legal malpractice.
Commingling the retainer with other funds
One of the most important rules for handling a client’s retainer is to keep those funds separate from all other financial resources. A lawyer should not deposit a client’s retainer into their business checking account or into their personal financial account. Usually, the creation of a new, separate escrow account is standard practice. That way, there is no possibility of a lawyer misusing those funds to cover personal or business expenses.
Failing to return unused funds
Many clients only require an attorney’s services until they address one particular issue. If someone resolves a lawsuit or their divorce proceedings and does not use the full balance of their retainer, the lawyer that they paid should return those funds in a timely manner. Failure to refund the remaining balance of a client’s retainer could be an actionable form of malpractice.
Inappropriately billing against a retainer
Some lawyers try to avoid a scenario in which they must refund part of a retainer by aggressively billing for their services. They may round up the time spent providing services or charge an inappropriate amount for simple, minor matters, such as billing an entire hour to send a two-sentence email. Especially when a client required minimal support and did not need to make additional payments for legal services, how a lawyer billed them while making use of their retainer could raise questions about whether or not their conduct constituted legal malpractice.
Going over the financial records from a recent legal issue with an attorney who practices malpractice law could help people better evaluate whether their lawyer may have committed legal malpractice through the mismanagement of a retainer.