How an Attorneys Addiction Can Lead to Malpractice

Many of us have read horror stories about attorneys who fall asleep during a trial or who show up in court intoxicated and disheveled. Although these scenarios are not common, they do occur, but it is not easy in many cases for the victimized client to get a new trial based on ineffective assistance of counsel because their attorney was anything but sober at trial. 

Addiction is a disease and many people either ignore their addiction or fail to recognize they have a problem or feel that they can still do their work while on drugs or alcohol. Attorneys are no different. If your attorney has demonstrated an addiction problem such as opioid use or alcoholism that has resulted in financial consequences or loss of liberty, do not hesitate to contact an experienced legal malpractice attorney.

What is Legal Malpractice?

When you enter into an agreement with an attorney, with or without signing their retainer agreement, that lawyer has an obligation or duty towards you to perform in a competent manner. His or her failure to do so, leading to you suffering financially or in the loss of your freedom in a criminal proceeding can be devastating and may be considered malpractice that could lead to a new trial and financial compensation to you.

Be aware that even if your attorney was inebriated at trial or failed to perform up to certain standards, it may not be sufficient for a court to find that you were the victim of ineffective assistance of counsel and entitled to a new trial or that the attorney’s performance even constituted malpractice in this particular instance. 

How Can Addiction Affect Attorney Performance?

Addiction can drastically affect an attorney’s performance whom clients rely on to perform research on issues, keep updated on changes to the law, to carefully review contracts and agreements, and to advocate vigorously for them. 

The following are some of the most common reasons how intoxication can lead to malpractice:

  1. Short on cash–An attorney with an addiction problem is often strapped for cash, so it is possible that a civil case such as a personal injury claim might be settled for well below reasonable expectations based on faulty representations made by the attorney to the client to persuade him or her to settle for much less or who settles the matter without the client’s consent. There are also cases where the attorney steals the settlement funds and makes numerous excuses to the client about why the funds are not forthcoming. 
  2. Failing to appear in court–Before a litigated matter, there are often numerous hearings, meetings, motions and court deadlines. An attorney who fails to appear at a motion or hearing because he is too inebriated or who does appear but while obviously intoxicated can lead to financial penalties imposed by the court on the client and attorney. The impaired attorney who fails to object to the introduction of adverse evidence against the client that results in disastrous consequences may well have committed malpractice.  An attorney who fails to appear at a hearing, or fails to file a responsive motion, can lose the case by default.
  3. Impaired judgement–An attorney who is under the influence may make significant errors when filling out certain documents, who may pass over and not realize the significance of certain adverse provisions, or who fails to include contractual provisions that are commonly can be guilty of negligent representation. Such errors can also affect strategizing and negotiating as well as leading to drastic results for the client. Further, deadlines can be missed where evidence and witnesses may be barred from trial causing the attorney to settle on very unfavorable terms.

Retain a Legal Malpractice Attorney from Burns and Jain 

Although you may feel or suspect that your attorney has an addiction problem that led to an adverse result, it does not necessarily mean that you have a meritorious claim of malpractice against the attorney or that you may be entitled to a new trial in some cases.  But you may have a malpractice case.  We have experience with these types of cases.  If your case does go to litigation, your legal malpractice attorney will essentially have to try two cases—the underlying one for which you were represented to see if it could reasonably have resulted in a favorable result for you, and then the case where you are alleging malpractice. 

Only a highly experienced legal malpractice attorney from Burns and Jain can review your case and determine if it is valid and has merit. Call us for a free consultation at (617) 227-7423.

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