lawyer or it staff , programmer, developer using computer laptop with triangle caution warning sign for notification . fraud symbolizing

When a client learns that his or her attorney has engaged in fraud, there is naturally a feeling of distress. Fraud could have negative repercussions for the legal matter that the lawyer was handling, along with the client’s other interests. It is imperative that you take steps to mitigate and potentially reverse the damage done. You may also be able to pursue a malpractice claim against the lawyer. The attorneys at Stanfield Bechtel Law provide some practical tips for what you should do if your lawyer has committed fraud.

Understanding the Nature of the Fraud

Attorney fraud can happen in a number of ways, some of which may directly impact the client’s legal, financial, or personal interests. These are a few examples:

  • Misrepresentation to the client about expenses, court costs, or fees
  • Presenting the client with fraudulent credentials (including licensure or ability to practice) to induce the client to hire the attorney
  • Misrepresentation of the law to the court or the client
  • Fraudulent assurances to the client that work was being performed or documents were filed
  • Lying to the client about appearing in court for a hearing or other matter
  • Fraudulently concealing an adverse ruling by the judge
  • Fraudulent hiding of documents, letters, or information provided by the opposing side
  • Misrepresentation of a settlement offer to induce the client to accept a higher or lower settlement amount than would otherwise be accepted
  • Misappropriation of settlement funds or a paid judgment, which typically includes a false explanation for why the client did not receive his or her fair share of the funds

Steps to Take After You Learn About the Fraud

You may have found out about the fraud either from another client who reached out to you, from the Bar, or from the attorney him- or herself. Some clients don’t learn of the fraud unless and until the judge or opposing party informs them. It may even take a news report to determine that the lawyer has done something fraudulent. However you find out about the fraud, these are some critical steps to take:

Secure your client files

Lawyers have an obligation to turn over certain records to their clients, regardless of whether they have been charged with a crime or sued in court over fraud. Reach out to the lawyer or the firm about obtaining your files immediately. If you cannot get in touch with the attorney, contact our office for further assistance.

Retain new counsel

This is an especially important thing to do if you have a pending legal matter. Talk to a new attorney about picking up where the previous attorney left off. It may take some time to sort out matters with the court or opposing counsel, so take action early.

Review court filings

Once you have your documents and your new legal counsel, take a look at what has been filed in court (or not). It’s also a good idea to review your courthouse file since what you received from the lawyer may be missing items. You need to know what has been presented to the court so your new attorney can take any remedial steps that may be necessary.

Examine settlement documents, judgments, and communications

Your lawyer might have made fraudulent misrepresentations to you about settlement or judgment funds. When you review your file, pay close attention to anything regarding these matters. This includes offers to settle or other statements from the opposing party.

Scrutinize your legal invoices

Because the attorney may have misrepresented court costs and lawyer fees, you should determine whether you have been overcharged for anything. Ask your new attorney to review the bills if necessary. If you disagree with anything in the invoices, ask your old attorney about them and make note of them for later. You may be able to seek compensation for them in a lawsuit.

Making a Case For Malpractice

If you believe your attorney’s fraud caused you legal or other harm, you have the right to pursue a malpractice case against the attorney. A client generally has three years to file a lawsuit, so it’s important that you don’t unnecessarily delay speaking with a legal malpractice attorney. You will have the burden of demonstrating these elements:

  • An attorney-client relationship existed when the alleged malpractice took place. This may be evidenced by a letter of engagement (contract with the lawyer) or communications from the attorney by which he or she agreed to perform legal services.
  • The attorney committed a wrongful act or omission or deviated from the standard of care owed to the client. Lawyers are expected to not only apply their legal knowledge and training to client matters, but to do so ethically and professionally. Engaging in fraud is a direct violation of the duty the lawyer owes to the client.
  • The attorney’s wrongful conduct harmed the client. This harm may be direct or indirect and can include damage done to the lawyer’s case, finances, or personal matters. Let your legal malpractice attorney know the various consequences that the attorney’s fraud caused for you.
  • As a result of the attorney’s wrongful conduct, the client suffered damages. The term “damages” refers to losses that the client incurred thanks to the attorney’s behavior. While this is often monetary in nature, the harm can take other forms. The objective of a lawsuit is to win compensation for these damages.

Available Compensation in a Legal Malpractice Case

A plaintiff who wins a Connecticut legal malpractice lawsuit can generally ask the court to award:

  • Compensatory damages: This type compensates a plaintiff for their losses. There are two broad categories of compensatory damages, including economic (financial losses) and non-economic damages (non-financial, subjective losses which include emotional distress).
  • Punitive damages: As the name suggests, punitive damages punish an attorney for particularly harmful behavior. They are often awarded to discourage other lawyers from engaging in similar behavior.
  • Costs and fees: Plaintiffs can also ask to be paid for their attorneys’ fees and court costs.

Talk To An Experienced Legal Malpractice Attorney

The lawyer’s fraud may have had a negative effect on your court case or affected your finances or personal life in some other way. This is where retaining a knowledgeable malpractice lawyer is essential. We can take a look at the fraud, help you understand how it might have impacted you, and advise you about filing a malpractice lawyer against the attorney. Call Stanfield Bechtel Law today to get started.