What if you are charged with a crime and don't have enough money for an attorney?

If a person is indigent (poor) and cannot afford an attorney, he or she may qualify for representation from a public defender's office. There are federal public defender's offices for those charged with federal crimes and local public defender offices for those charged with state or local crimes.

When a person is taken into custody, the authorities may make them fill out a form that describes their assets and financial condition. If a person qualifies, then the public defender's office will apply to represent them or the court will appoint the public defender's office to represent them.

If your lawyer does a lousy job on your case, for what reasons can you sue for malpractice?

You may be able to pursue a claim of legal malpractice against your lawyer if he or she caused harm to your case and that, absent the legal malpractice, there is a reasonable probability that you would have had a good case and prevailed. Legal malpractice claims are sometimes based on contract law, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligence. If your lawyer violates the attorney-client agreement, then he or she may have breached the contract and may be liable for liquated damages under contract law.

The lawyer-client relationship is one that creates a special relationship and special duties of care placed upon the professional—the lawyer. In some circumstances, the lawyer may be liable for breaching a fiduciary duty if he or she did not provide loyalty and confidentiality to his client.

Most legal malpractice claims are pursued under a theory of tort law and this makes sense because another name for malpractice is professional negligence. In a legal malpractice case based on negligence, the client asserts that the lawyer failed to exercise the level of care, skill, and knowledge normally provided by a lawyer. Legal malpractice cases are very difficult to prove, as generally the plaintiff must show that he or she would have prevailed in the underlying legal matter without the lawyer's negligence.

It is even harder to prevail in a legal malpractice case arising out of a criminal matter because courts require a plaintiff to present a colorable claim (appearance of plausibility but actually deceptive) of innocence before prevailing.

Are public defenders good lawyers?

Yes, there is a public misconception that public defenders are less than stellar attorneys or inferior to private attorneys. For most public defenders this is an inaccurate or false characterization. The difference is that sometimes wealthy defendants have greater financial resources to challenge the government and hire more expert witnesses and, perhaps, have a better chance sometimes at an acquittal.

Can a judge appoint attorneys to represent someone?

Yes, sometimes a public defender's office may have a conflict and cannot represent a particular individual. For example, if three defendants are charged with a crime, the public defender may be representing one of those three defendants and cannot represent the other two, because all three individuals may testify against each other and try to obtain the best deals possible. Other times the public defender's office may have an overwhelming caseload. In this situation, a judge may appoint a lawyer in private practice to represent a defendant.

Are all lawyers litigators?

No, most lawyers are not purely litigators. Litigators refer to those attorneys who regularly appear in court and try (or litigate) cases. Sometimes these attorneys are called

LegalSpeak: ABA Model Rule 1.4 Communication

(a) A lawyer shall:

(1) promptly inform the client of any decision or circumstance with respect to which the client's informed consent ... is required by these Rules;

(2) reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client's objectives are to be accomplished;

(3) keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter;

(4) promptly comply with reasonable requests for information; and

(5) consult with the client about any relevant limitation on the lawyer's conduct when the lawyer knows that the client expects assistance not permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.

(b) A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.

trial attorneys, because they have jury trials. Many attorneys work in areas of practice where litigation does not occur that frequently. These attorneys negotiate deals, file motions and do other work that does not require frequent courtroom appearances.

Other attorneys focus on settling cases rather than taking them to trial. These attorneys may be well versed in an area of law, but simply prefer to settle cases rather than try cases before a jury.

Still other attorneys may be appellate attorneys, which mean that they do not practice in trial courts. These attorneys specialize in appearing before appellate courts, reviewing lower court decisions and trying to identify errors of law committed. Some attorneys, in fact, specialize almost entirely in U.S. Supreme Court litigation.

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