Top 5 Warning Signs of an Incompetent Lawyer: How to Avoid Hiring a Bad Lawyer

Tilly Tanga

Tilly Tanga

Published on: 09 November, 2023

Consulting a Fired Lawyer

At some point in life, most people will hire a lawyer, and choosing the right lawyer is vital. Hiring a bad lawyer could cause emotional distress, unnecessary financial losses, and bad court outcomes. It’s not uncommon for people to have doubts about their legal counsel, but it’s crucial to know the difference between a minor hiccup and a major red flag. Here, we will walk you through how to identify a bad lawyer before things go too far south.

This blog will go over the basics of:

  • How to research reviews & assess experience before hiring a lawyer
  • How to recognize red flags of a bad lawyer, like poor communication and lack of organization
  • How to stay informed and keep records to prevent legal malpractice

How to Choose the Right Lawyer for Your Case

Before hiring a lawyer, it is always a good idea to do your due diligence and make sure your laywer will be a good fit. Hiring a bad lawyer can be detrimental to your case outcome, and can cause you a significant financial loss due to legal fees, therefore doing your research on the front-end can save you time, money, and stress down the line.

In this section, we will provide tips on how to research reviews, consider experience and specialization, and conduct an initial consultation, in the hopes of helping you find the best legal representation for your needs.

Research and Reviews

Almost everyone is online these days, and if the lawyer that you are scoping out can't be traced online then that might already be a red flag. One of the best ways to find a reputable lawyer is through research and reviews. When looking for a new lawyer make sure to check out online platforms such as:

  • Avvo
  • Martindale-Hubbell
  • Super Lawyers
  • Yelp
  • Google Reviews

When reading through the reviews look for telltale signs from previous clients. Has the lawyer missed filing deadlines? Did they accomplish tasks within a reasonable time? While these are great resources for reviews and ratings from past clients, it’s important to consider the source’s trustworthiness, the number and range of reviews, and any potential biases. When reading through reviews make sure you also consider the following:

  • Do negative reviews address specific concerns you have?
  • How many negative reviews are there vs how many positive reviews are there?
  • How many total reviews are there?

In addition to online reviews, consider asking friends, family, or colleagues for referrals and recommendations. Personal experiences can be just as valuable as online reviews in helping you find a lawyer who truly understands your needs and has a proven track record of success.

Google Search

Experience and Specialization

Considering a lawyer’s experience and specialization in your specific legal matter is a crucial factor when selecting a good lawyer. A lawyer with expertise in your particular area of law will have a better understanding of the complexities and details of your case, which can lead to more successful outcomes.

Most lawyers will outline what they specialize in on websites, or online profiles. However, during your initial consultation, inquire about the lawyer’s experience with similar cases and their success rate. This information will help you gauge their ability to handle your case effectively and give you confidence in their skills.

Initial Consultation

It is vital to schedule a consultation with the lawyer before hiring them, and most lawyers will do it for free. An initial consultation is a crucial step in deciding whether a lawyer is a good fit for your case. During this meeting, you should ask about their approach to handling your case, their fees, and any expectations they may have.

Here is a list of questions you might want to ask during your free consultation:

  • What is your experience with cases similar to mine?
  • Can you provide references from past clients?
  • What is your success rate in these types of cases?
  • How do you communicate with clients and how often?
  • What is your fee structure and are there any hidden costs?
  • How will you approach my case specifically?
  • Who else in your office will be working on my case?

To get the most out of your initial consultation, come prepared with copies of any relevant documents, a list of questions, and a clear understanding of your goals for the case. This meeting is an opportunity to gauge your comfort level with the attorney and determine if their expertise aligns with your needs.

Lawyer Choice

Recognizing the Red Flags: 4 Indicators of an Incompetent Lawyer

Now, whether you are in your research phase, or you have already hired a lawyer, make sure you don't ignore the potential warning signs. When it comes to legal matters, the stakes are often high, and hiring the wrong attorney can have devastating consequences. Recognizing the red flags early on can save you time, money, and heartache. Here are the four primary signs of an incompetent lawyer:

  1. Poor communication
  2. Lack of organization
  3. Inadequate knowledge of the law
  4. Unethical behavior

By being aware of these signs, you can avoid hiring a bad lawyer and ensure that your legal matters are handled effectively.

Inadequate Communication

Picture this: you’re trying to reach your lawyer for an urgent update, but they never return your phone calls or answer your emails. Sound familiar? Inadequate communication is a major red flag that could signal an incompetent lawyer. Building trust and ensuring clarity about the case hinges on efficient communication between a lawyer and their client.

It is hard to trust a lawyer who doesn't keep you updated. If they aren't communicating with their clients then chances are they are not communicating with other important people in your case, like the judge, or potential witnesses.

Here are some important elements of a healthy attorney-client communication:

  • Active listening
  • Setting clear expectations
  • Using simple language
  • Maintaining two-way communication
  • Taking the time to answer your questions
  • Keeping you updated throughout the process

If your lawyer is consistently unresponsive or dismissive, it might be time to consider looking for a new attorney who values open and honest communication.

Messy Papers

Disorganized Case Management

Another telltale sign of an incompetent lawyer, or a bad lawyer, is disorganized case management within the legal system. Missed deadlines, incomplete paperwork, and jumbled evidence are all consequences of poor case management, which can negatively impact the progress of your case. Disorganization can cause many complications down the line, including compliance problems, and malpractice so it is best to avoid it as much as possible.

On the other hand, efficient case management should look something like this:

  • Organizing case files
  • Formulating checklists
  • Task prioritization
  • Employing case management software to simplify the process

Unethical Practices

Unethical behavior is a serious red flag that should not be taken lightly.

Unprofessional conduct and unlawful activities can jeopardize your case and result in legal consequences for both you and your lawyer. Shady billing practices, such as rounding up hours or including unexpected fees, can also indicate unethical practices.

Identifying unethical practices in lawyers can be challenging, especially for individuals unfamiliar with legal procedures. Some common unethical practices include:

  • Excessive billing
  • Conflict of interest
  • Lack of diligence
  • Confidentiality breaches
  • Unprofessional behavior

A lawyer should always act in the best interest of their client, maintain professional integrity, and adhere to the legal profession's ethical standards. If you suspect your lawyer is acting unethically, it's crucial to seek advice from a trusted source or consider terminating the attorney-client relationship.

Importance of Relevant Legal Experience

It's crucial to ensure that your lawyer has substantial experience in the specific field of law relevant to your case. For instance, a tax lawyer might be excellent at handling tax-related disputes, but they may not have the necessary expertise to assist with your personal injury case. Conversely, an attorney who has a lot of experience with car accident personal injury claims might not know how to assist with immigration issues.

The law is a vast field with numerous specialties, and each type requires a unique set of skills and knowledge. So, ensure they have a proven track record in similar cases to yours to increase your chances of a favorable outcome.

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Lack of Empathy and Understanding

Lastly, a lack of empathy and understanding from your lawyer can be a sign that they’re not fully invested in your case. A good attorney should genuinely care about the outcome of your case and be able to empathize with your situation.

If your lawyer seems indifferent or dismissive of your concerns, it might be time to look for someone who will treat you and your case with the compassion and attention you deserve. Remember, your lawyer should be your advocate, and that means truly understanding your needs and working tirelessly to achieve the best possible outcome.

What to Do if You've Hired a Bad Lawyer

If you suspect you’ve hired a bad lawyer, don’t panic. There are steps you can take to protect your case and ensure a successful outcome.

We will discuss the significance of seeking a second opinion and the possibility of terminating the attorney-client relationship if necessary in this part.

Seeking a Second Opinion

Obtaining a second opinion can provide valuable insight into your case and help you decide if you need to switch lawyers. Start by researching attorneys who specialize in your specific legal issue and schedule a free consultation with them.

During the consultation, provide the new attorney with all the necessary information and documentation from your previous lawyer. This will help your legal counsel assess your case properly and give you an informed opinion on whether you should continue with your current attorney or seek new representation.

Terminating the Attorney-Client Relationship

Understanding the potential implications of terminating the attorney-client relationship is vital if you’ve concluded that your current lawyer isn’t the right fit for your case. Before taking any action, consult with a new attorney to ensure you’re making the best decision for your case.

When ending the attorney-client relationship, be sure to follow the appropriate legal and ethical guidelines. This may include documenting the termination in writing and ensuring any outstanding fees are paid. Remember, it’s crucial to prioritize your best interests and ensure your case is in the hands of a competent lawyer.

Lawyer Exchange

How to Prevent Legal Malpractice

So, how can you prevent malpractice and ensure your case is in good hands? In this part, we will discuss the significance of staying informed and involved in your case and the need for keeping detailed records as evidence, should you need to take action against a bad lawyer.

Stay Informed and Involved

Staying informed and involved in your case can help you identify any potential issues with your lawyer early on. By actively participating in the process and maintaining open communication with your attorney, you can ensure they stay current on any new information that could affect the case.

By staying in touch with your lawyer and making sure everyone is on the same page, you can help prevent legal malpractice and ensure your case receives the attention and care it deserves.

Keep Detailed Records

Keeping detailed records of your case and communications with your lawyer can provide evidence if you need to take action against an incompetent lawyer. This includes:

  • Emails
  • Letters
  • Contracts
  • Invoices, including those related to legal expenses
  • Other documents related to your case

In addition to helping you build a case against a bad lawyer, maintaining detailed records can also help you:

  • Stay organized
  • Ensure you have a clear understanding of your legal matter
  • Take a proactive approach to prevent malpractice
  • Protect your best interests


As you navigate the legal landscape, it's essential to know how to avoid hiring an incompetent lawyer. You should always conduct thorough research and assess a lawyer's experience before hiring them. Be vigilant and recognize red flags such as poor communication and disorganization. To prevent legal malpractice, stay informed about your case and keep detailed records. If you've unfortunately hired a bad lawyer, don't panic. You can seek a second opinion and even terminate the attorney-client relationship if necessary. Remember, your goal is to secure competent, ethical, and effective legal representation.

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About the author

About the Author

Tilly Tanga

Director of Operations

Tilly Tanga is the Director of Operations at Pigeon. Having graduated from Bowdoin College and spent numerous years in the healthcare field helping others, she has combined her unique skill set to help support the broader Pigeon community through education and evangelism. An expert in community engagement, Tilly is the voice of The Carrier, a newsletter series by Pigeon. She writes about all the latest developments, successes, and news happening within the Pigeon community every month.