Can a Lawyer Settle My Case Without My Consent?Settlements
In any legal case, the client controls when to settle the case. You can think of it this way: A lawyer decides strategy, but a client decides when and whether to settle. Communication between a client and attorney is the key to a good outcome.
As you read further, you will find that there are ethical obligations that a personal injury lawyer must consider during representation and that a client has protection from the unethical actions of their attorney. Continue reading to learn more about the attorney-client relationship and how it relates to settling a case.
Ethical Rules on Settling Cases
Lawyers across the country have a set of ethical rules by which they must abide. If an attorney fails to meet the Rules of Professional Responsibility standards, they are subject to punishments that may include losing their license to practice law.
When new information about a settlement offer becomes available, the lawyer must talk to the client about the new information. Lawyers must communicate about the status of your case.
A lawyer must reasonably consult with the client about the means to accomplish the client’s goals. A lawyer cannot settle a case without the client’s permission or knowledge. Further, when a client asks an attorney for information about their case, the attorney must provide it.
Your lawyer must explain all litigation matters to you. As the client, you should receive reasonable explanations from your attorney. A lawyer should give the client sufficient information about the case to help them make informed decisions about their representation.
Before a final settlement, your lawyer must explain the settlement terms to you. If a lawyer fails to explain litigation matters to their clients adequately enough to help the client understand the implications of taking the settlement offer and how rejecting the settlement offer will affect the case overall.
Attorneys must communicate adequately with the client during settlement negotiations during a civil lawsuit. The same ethical rules apply to a civil litigation attorney as a criminal defense lawyer. An attorney who fails to meet their obligations to a client in a civil action faces the same potential consequences as a criminal defense lawyer who acted the same way. Attorneys are always obligated to communicate with you and explain your matter thoroughly.
What Happens if My Lawyer Settles My Case Without Speaking to Me?
While your attorney has an ethical obligation to communicate settlement offers to you, it is not illegal for an attorney to accept a settlement offer on your behalf without speaking with you about it. Clients in some states may have to adhere to the lawyer’s acceptance or rejection of a settlement offer.
You and your lawyer and your lawyer’s staff are a team. The team must work well together, and working well together means that you must be upfront about your objectives for the case. If you disagree with how your lawyer handles your claim or want to change directions, be open about your concerns with your lawyer.
You should never feel pressured to settle a case instead of going to trial. You and your family have to live with the case’s outcome, so make sure that you agree with how it is going.
Are Attorneys Punished if They Settle Without My Consent?
Lawyers face discipline for not properly communicating with you or failing to explain important parts of the case to you and allow you to decide. Every attorney practicing in this country must comply with the ethical rules. Per the Rules of Professional Conduct, once you enter an attorney-client relationship, the attorney has several duties to fulfill for you. Failure to meet the obligations may lead to the attorney facing disciplinary action by the Board of Professional Responsibility.
Discipline takes various forms. A court and the board consider several factors before punishing an attorney for misconduct while practicing.
Factors they might consider include:
- Whether the lawyer violated a duty to a client, the public, the court or legal system, or the legal profession entirely
- Whether the lawyer acted with intent, knowledge, or neglect
- The amount of the harm or potential injury caused by the lawyer’s action or inaction
- Any aggravating or mitigating factors
Types of Discipline Lawyers Face for Misconduct
Lawyers can face severe discipline for misconduct.
After considering the above factors, the court or the board will:
- Revoke their license to practice law
- Suspend them from the practice of law for up to three years
- Place the lawyer on probation for up to two years.
- Reprimand the lawyer.
- Admonish the lawyer’s actions.
A court reprimand is an acknowledgment by the court that the lawyer violated their ethical obligations. A reprimand must be in writing and published in the state’s bar association journal and the local newspaper to guide other lawyers.
The admonition is a private court rebuke. An admonition happens before the bar files formal misconduct charges. An admonition must be in writing. Admonition only applies if the lawyer’s bad act was minor and it did not cause any injury to their client, the public, the court system, or the profession.
The court or the Board of Professional Responsibility can place a lawyer on probation. The board or court can only impose for up to two years, though they can extend it for another two years after a hearing and determination that there is a need to continue supervising the attorney.
The conditions of the lawyer’s probation must be in writing and provided to the lawyer. Probation is only appropriate and considered as punishment if the court or board can reasonably supervise the attorney and there is no threat of harm to the public.
Public Sanctions vs. Private Sanctions
Punishments imposed on attorneys can be private or public. The nature of the offense and the punishment given determine if the attorney’s discipline will be private or public.
Public sanctions include:
- Disbarment (Losing license to practice law)
Private sanctions include:
What Do I Do If I Have a Complaint Against My Lawyer?
If a lawyer settles or attempts to settle your case without speaking with you, the problem may boil down to a communication issue. If that is the case, have a face-to-face conversation with your lawyer and frankly explain your concerns about the poor communication between you and the office.
If you feel that they will handle your case with care going forward after your conversation, then there may not be any other actions that you need to take. However, you can escalate your complaint to the appropriate agency in more grievous circumstances.
The courts and regulatory ethics boards regulate lawyers. Each state has a bar association and ethics board that will have its process for filing complaints. The procedure may include filing a form or sending a letter that explains your complaint.
The agency will investigate your complaint by informing the lawyer that you submitted a complaint and giving them a chance to respond in writing. In rare cases, the matter will go to a hearing where both sides present their cases before a court or the board. You may want to hire an attorney for the hearing.
In extreme cases, you may want to pursue a legal malpractice case. Like any other lawsuit, you must file a complaint in the appropriate civil court within the applicable statute of limitations.
Seek Help from the Right Personal Injury Lawyer
Have a lawyer you can trust. Whether you face a criminal charge or are involved in a civil lawsuit, your attorney is your advocate. You are on the same team, and communication is the key to successful outcomes. Regulatory bodies for lawyers know that you had placed a great deal of trust in your attorney and your attorney’s team when you hired them. Therefore, the agencies that handle ethical violations by attorneys have made filing complaints about lack of communication or other violations accessible for clients.
Despite the rare problems in an attorney-client relationship, a lawyer’s job is to protect your interests and advocate for your interests against defendants. Choosing the right attorney for your case may be difficult. Do not hesitate to meet with several attorneys until you find the right fit for you and your situation. The best advocacy starts with you choosing the right legal team. Get the right legal team on your side to maximize your chances of success.
If you were working with a personal injury attorney and believe they are not upholding their duty, you have options. Discuss those options with another trusted lawyer in your area. The last thing you need while dealing with an injury is to have a lawyer who refuses to fight for your full compensation – especially since there are attorneys who will.
How Personal Injury Settlements Work?
If you suffered injuries and someone else was to blame, your personal injury lawyer will file one or more insurance claims against at-fault parties. Your lawyer will demand a certain amount from the insurance company depending on your past and future losses, but the insurance company likely will not agree to pay this amount right away.
Instead, insurance companies try to save money by making very low settlement offers to start. They hope that injured claimants will accept less than they deserve since it saves the insurance company money. It is common for unrepresented claimants to accept low offers, but an injury attorney should prevent this from happening.
When your attorney learns of a settlement offer, they should review the details with you and advise whether the offer is fair or not. Then, it is up to you – and only you – whether you accept the offer. Your lawyer can advise not to accept a lower offer, but if you feel satisfied with the amount and want to end your case, it is your choice. Keep in mind that if you accept less than covers your losses, you will be responsible for paying for future losses. Listen when your attorney advises you to hold out for a higher offer.
Some injury law firms are settlement mills a term for attorneys who push clients into quick settlements to resolve each case as soon as possible. These firms do not care whether each client gets the maximum possible settlement amount – instead, they care about completing as many cases as they can in a short time. They prioritize quantity over quality, and this is not good for injured clients.
When you meet with an attorney at your free consultation, ask about their philosophy regarding settlements. Will they file a lawsuit and litigate your case if you do not receive an adequate offer directly from the insurance company? Do most of their cases settle early, or do they hold out for higher amounts?
Consider these important things when contacting a personal injury attorney. You do not have to pay for this consultation, and there is no obligation to hire the first lawyer you meet. Choose someone who appreciates your goals for settlement in your personal injury claim.
Nathan Hughey, an attorney and fourth-generation South Carolinian, founded Hughey Law Firm in 2007. Before that, he spent five years defending nursing homes and insurance companies. Leveraging his experience, he now advocates for those injured or wronged by such entities, securing over $220 million in verdicts and settlements.