5 Warning Signs That You Have an Incompetent Divorce Lawyer

By:
Michael Tierney
Updated
May 25, 2022

It is imperative to ensure you have the best possible resources when dealing with legal matters. In divorce court, the stakes are often higher since you will be involved in a case with your spouse, and both of your assets are drawn into question. Several factors go into preparing for a divorce claim against your spouse where you will want the best of the best.

Specifically, you will want to ensure that the attorney whose services you retain is qualified to handle your case.

Solution Your attorney needs to be intimately familiar with the laws of your state and needs to be able to do their job effectively. A poor lawyer can sink your odds of reaching a favorable divorce settlement.

This requirement means that you will want to keep a close eye on the behaviors and professionalism of your attorney after you have hired them. Contrary to popular belief, you do not have to stand by your attorney if they prove to be an inept counselor. However, if you do not act before it is too late, your attorney could turn your divorce into a nightmare from which you will never awaken.

With this article, we will be advising you on some of the warning signs of an incompetent divorce attorney to ensure they do not disrupt your case.

Sign #1: A Lack of Communication

One thing you never want to experience from an attorney is a lack of communication. Legal battles like divorce are an ever-evolving situation in which negotiations are a constant. Therefore, being aware of all the details of the proceedings is extremely important if you want the case to end favorably.

Lack of Communication

Not every stage of divorce proceedings will directly involve you, and there will be steps that your attorney will be handling on their own. Therefore, a competent lawyer will keep you informed of the details and results of these proceedings to ensure you have all relevant information. This statement does not mean that your attorney will be communicating with you 24/7, but they will make sure the information critical to your case is brought to your attention.

The last thing you want is complete radio silence from your attorney. It is not uncommon to go through brief periods where your attorney is not communicating with you but going weeks without contact is a red flag. Your attorney should not only be updating you on the events of the negotiations but should be consulting with you on essential matters. Your input should remain their top priority when these negotiations are underway, and failure to adhere to this is a sign of a poor lawyer.

A genuinely incompetent lawyer will fail to inform you of any significant developments and will hardly contact you throughout your case. Conversely, a competent counselor will update you on all important developments in the divorce proceedings and regularly seek your input on them. If you only hear from your attorney in short bursts, you likely have one who does not take their job too seriously or is grossly inept.

Sign #2: Peculiar Billing Practices

Another major red flag from an attorney is how they charge you for their services.

Ordinarily, an attorney will bill you an hourly rate throughout the proceedings, disregarding an initial consultation usually gratis. However, this is generally because the attorney has expenses they need to cover while working on your claim and pay their staff. There will always be legal costs and fees that will factor into how your attorney charges for their services. The more skilled they are at their job, and the greater their reputation, the greater the hourly rate will end up being.

Unfair Billing Practices

These breakdowns are traditionally included in the billing information your attorney provides so you can have a complete understanding of their billing process. Your attorney must be able to justify their fees to make sure they are not trying to charge you more than they are worth.

 If your attorney is unable or unwilling to justify the expense, you likely have an untrustworthy counselor.

An incompetent or even underhanded attorney would be unable to fully justify their charges and unable to provide proof of their expenses that could serve as justification.

Sign #3: Unprofessional Behavior

One of the most significant signs of an incompetent lawyer is unprofessional conduct and behavior on their part. An attorney's conduct should be efficient, courteous, and professional. Anything less can indicate an incompetent or simply uncaring attorney about their responsibilities. Regardless, an attorney has some apparent signs of incompetence if their professional disposition and behaviors do not align with what you expect from a legal representative.

Unprofessional Behavior

For example, what if your attorney is constantly late to hearings or rescheduling important meetings?

An attorney's inability to be present or timely is a sure sign of incompetence. Your attorney should always be on time and should not be shuffling the negotiation schedule around. These meetings are paramount to a successful divorce, as constantly missing them will give your spouse's legal team more ammunition to fight your claims.

Another prominent form of unprofessional behavior on your attorney's part has to do with their appearance. When presenting themselves before a judge and other attorneys, yours must have a kempt appearance and conduct themselves respectfully. If your attorney is constantly chaotic and is disrespectful to you, the other attorney, and the judge, it is a sign of incompetence. Worse still, it will make it impossible for your attorney to be taken seriously by the powers that be and your opposition - this can severely impact your case and lead to the divorce settling in favor of your spouse.

Sign #4: Unethical Actions

One of the more severe and concerning signs of incompetence surrounds the ethical conduct of your attorney. Attorneys are bound by a code of conduct and legal regulations that allow them to practice law. Failure to adhere to and uphold these regulations are serious infractions taken so seriously by the American Bar Association, the administration regulating lawyers, that attorneys found in violation are prohibited from practicing.

Unethical Actions

Therefore, keeping an eye out for any ethical violations from your attorney is essential to your case and essential to making sure a crime is not being committed.

When an attorney fails to remain faithful to the principles and regulations of the Bar Association, it means they are abusing their positions or taking liberties with the letter of the law.

This violation makes them unfit to continue practicing law and turns them into a liability insofar as your divorce suit is concerned. Each state has its arm of the ABA, which means each arm can regulate attorneys as they see fit within their borders. However, several violations are universally opposed and condemned by the ABA on a federal level, including conflict of interest.

One tactic in divorce law is for one party to consult with multiple attorneys to find the best fit and produce a conflict. Since the attorney advised your spouse, they cannot legally take your case even if your spouse hired another lawyer altogether.

All of those attornies now have a legal obligation to preserve the client confidentiality of their spouse. If an attorney your spouse has consulted with agrees to take your case, they are doing so in disregard of the ABA's regulations. This kind of incompetence and disregard for the protocol can severely affect your claim since the sleights of your attorney can cause all progress to come undone and have the case dismissed in your spouse's favor.

While ABA regulations aren't frequently exploited in this way, it's still something that you should be aware of.

Sign #5: A Lack of Results

Like you never want your attorney to fall out of touch, you also do not want to hear the same thing repeatedly. You expect movement on your case with time and effort rather than constant platitudes and assurances from your attorney. It is common for lawsuits to take a while before there is any significant movement, but if you are hearing your attorney repeat the same reports over and over, it can be a huge red flag.

Lack of Results

If your attorney is repeating themselves when it comes to the progress of your case or lack thereof, it can be indicative that they are not giving your divorce claim the full attention it requires, or they are simply slacking on some aspect of the case.

If your attorney always has an excuse ready about why things are not moving along as they should, it can indicate their incompetence. There are several details your attorney is meant to handle on your behalf to ensure the claim is appropriately litigated. This process usually involves filing paperwork before the deadlines and making appearances at scheduled hearings and negotiations.

Typically, a competent attorney will outline the legal strategy they have in mind for your case so that you have an idea of how long it will take for things to proceed.

If you find that the outline is not being followed and it takes longer for your attorney to accomplish the promised goals, you have a problem. You will want to check in with your attorney if the information has not been forthcoming, and if it is more of the same, you might want to sever your relationship with the lawyer.

Can You Change Lawyers?

When you discover that your attorney is not as competent as they initially claimed to be, you might be wondering if you have any recourse for replacing them. Moreover, you are probably wondering if it is possible to make such a significant change in the middle of the case - especially since your current, incompetent lawyer has all of your relevant paperwork and information.

The good news is that you have every right to transition from one lawyer to another. However, making such a change is not a decision to make lightly. After all, changing litigators is a costly and time-consuming process in which all relevant information needs to be sent from your original lawyer to your new one.

There are specific requirements for you to meet before successfully transitioning between lawyers. Specifically, your claim has made it into a courtroom to be presented before a judge. At this point, you will need to deliver your intention to switch lawyers to the judge and secure their permission before retaining your new counselor.

Can You Change Lawyers

In most cases, the judge presiding over your divorce will allow you to change lawyers with little pushback. However, some exceptions could lead the judge to deny your request.

The further along in the trial you are, the less likely the judge is to approve the request. So, it is vital to keep an eye out for incompetence from your attorney from the beginning. Otherwise, you risk being trapped with an incompetent lawyer and losing any semblance of a reasonable divorce settlement. However, if you notice incompetence from your legal counsel from the outset, you can transition from one attorney to another without worrying about a rejected request.

Learn the Law

Divorce law is a complicated and unpleasant facet of the American judicial system. It is nearly impossible for the average American to fully comprehend the finer points of divorce law without intensive study, so we rely on our attorneys to navigate it on our behalf and provide the insight necessary to separate from our spouses successfully. We need to be sure that the attorney we retain for this purpose is competent and remains within the bounds of the American Bar Association's policies and protocols.

Keeping an eye out for any of the above behaviors is critical to ensuring your attorney does not jeopardize your case. However, if you need access to information about divorce proceedings before trying to make a change of attorney, there are resources available.

We at Learn Divorce Law have made it our goal to provide information about the policies of divorce law. We want to make sure you have every possible resource at your disposal to make an informed decision about your divorce proceedings. So, if you want to learn more about how divorce proceedings should go, visit our website, and peruse our articles. We want to make sure you have the best information possible to make an informed decision.

Written By:
Michael Tierney
Michael is a legal writer and graduate of WSU. Prior to becoming a legal writer, he had 6 years of experience as a legal assistant and office manager for a family law attorney. He's written about numerous legal subjects from helping spouses who are stuck in toxic situations to the intricacies of custody battles. In his spare time, he enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and building custom keyboards.

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