Will a Lawyer Take My Case? (5 Reasons Why Not)
Reviewed by Carina Jenkins, J.D.
Finding the right lawyer for your case is daunting. You may already be frustrated or overwhelmed with a complicated legal situation, and you may be surprised if a lawyer refuses to take your case. Or perhaps you have an unusual legal problem and wonder, "Will a lawyer take my case?"
An attorney isn’t obligated to take your case, and there are several reasons they might turn you down. Here’s a little insight into why a lawyer may refuse to take your case.
Generally, there are two big reasons: The law firm may not be a good fit for you, or there may be a problem with your legal issue.
Here’s a breakdown of the top five reasons a lawyer might turn down your case:
Many lawyers focus on just a few areas of law. If you contact a lawyer who primarily handles divorces or estate planning about a personal injury claim, like a slip and fall, they'll probably decline to represent you. Try not to be frustrated. That lawyer probably doesn't have the expertise needed to give you the best possible representation.
Some issues, like medical malpractice, are particularly time-consuming and complex. These cases may take years to litigate and require expert witnesses. Small law firms don't always have the resources needed for these lawsuits. A law firm might also be too busy to accept new clients or may not have the time to handle your case as quickly as needed.
Most cases are subject to laws referred to as statutes of limitations. A statute of limitations says how long a person has to file a particular type of lawsuit. For example, you may have two years after a car accident to file a lawsuit.
All state and federal courts must follow these laws, but be aware that the amount of time can vary by state and the type of case. Lawyers won't take a case that's past its statute of limitations. The court will dismiss any suit filed after its statute of limitations has expired.
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Law firms are often willing to take some risks, but that doesn't mean they'll accept any case. A lawyer may decline to take your case if it seems unwinnable based on the facts you've shared. Some lawyers may hesitate to take on unique or novel legal problems.
Medical malpractice and personal injury cases are often done on a contingent fee, meaning the lawyer doesn't get paid until they win money for you. Lawyers working on a contingent fee basis may be more likely to reject a problematic case.
Not all lawyers are the same. If you're looking to hire an aggressive divorce attorney, a firm that focuses on collaborative divorce or mediation may turn you down.
A lawyer may also refuse your case if they believe you are asking them to do something illegal, unethical or that violates their personal beliefs. While lawyers have certain obligations to their clients, they are rarely required to take on a new client or case.
Additionally, a lawyer might decline to take you on as a client because they have a conflict of interest. “Conflict of interest” is a legal term meaning the lawyer's interests might conflict with your case or that the lawyer already spoke to another party to your lawsuit. Conflicts of interest usually apply to an entire law firm. For example, if you're getting divorced, you may not be able to retain a lawyer from a firm already representing your spouse.
If a lawyer turned down your case because they don't handle that type of law or don't have the resources, you should consider hiring a different firm. Getting a lawyer with the right expertise and enough resources is in your best interest. Contacting a firm with experience in similar specialized areas is helpful, especially if you have a unique legal problem.
Contact another firm if a lawyer turns you down due to a conflict of interest. Legal rules regarding conflicts of interest exist primarily for your protection.
You may benefit from seeking a second or third opinion if a lawyer won't take your case due to:
- The statute of limitations
- An opinion that your case can't be won based on the facts
- The belief that you don't have a legitimate legal issue
- Concerns that you're asking for something unethical
Laws aren't always clear, and lawyers can have differing opinions. However, when multiple lawyers decline to take your case, it may signal a bigger problem. Even if the situation seems unfair, you may not have a good legal case. You may be able to represent yourself, but be aware that you could face fines or other consequences if a court considers your case frivolous.
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