Attorneys suffering from depression or involved in drug addiction will often abandon their practices. The attorney stops returning the clients’ phone calls, the staff covers for the attorney to keep their jobs as long as possible and eventually, the client learns that crucial deadlines have been missed and the case is destroyed.
The Entrekin Law Firm settled a case for millions of dollars where a Tucson attorney suffering from depression abandoned his practice and lied about it to his clients. This abandonment went on over a period of more than a year, with the attorney even taking active steps to prevent the clients from learning that their cases had been dismissed. He actually pretended to have hired expert witnesses and would have the clients show up for “court hearings” and then claim that the hearing had been cancelled. After the legal malpractice case against him was settled (along with other malpractice cases brought on behalf of some of his other clients), the attorney was disbarred. Ironically, he had been a prominent professional malpractice attorney.
In another well known Arizona abandonment case, an attorney with a number of large commercial cases succumbed to depression and drug addiction and simply stopped working on his client’s cases, without telling his clients. This was actually the second time he had abandoned his case load, having gotten away with it the first time.
If your attorney is slow to return phone calls or does a poor job of keeping you informed, this is a serious problem, but does not rise to the level of abandonment. Abandonment occurs when an attorney consistently fails to meet court ordered deadlines, causing serious damage to your case that cannot be repaired. An abandonment case is made much stronger if there is written evidence that the attorney has lied about the missed deadlines. Fortunately, serious abandonment cases are relatively rare, but they do occasionally occur.
In 1961, the Arizona Supreme Court established the Arizona Client Protection Fund, which is currently administered through the State Bar. You may be eligible for the Fund if your lawyer:
1) took fees in advance; 2) performed no work; and 3) refused to refund the fees,
provided that the lawyer was:
1) licensed to practice in Arizona; 2) you were in an attorney/client relationship and the lawyer was representing you; and 3) the lawyer has been suspended, disbarred or placed on disability inactive status by the Court, has died or has been convicted of a felony in connection with the actions at issue.
Even if you did not pay fees in advance which were not refunded, you may be eligible for the Fund if your lawyer’s abandonment involved acts of dishonesty, which caused you to lose money. That said, the Client Protection Fund has a limit: it can pay up to $100,000 on one individual claim and up to $250,000 total in claims against one lawyer, which is generally not a high enough sum to justify the time, effort, money and risk inherent in a legal malpractice lawsuit. One other caveat: even if you meet the above criteria, you are not eligible for the Fund if you are a partner or relative of the lawyer whose conduct caused the claim.
The Fund is not an option for all claims, but is ideal for claims that fit its criteria and are not large enough, in terms of financial loss, to justify a legal malpractice suit. If your lawyer has abandoned your case, causing serious financial damages, contact us to discuss your potential claim further.