Sometimes the best thing a lawyer can do for someone is to refuse to accept his or her case. I know that sounds awful at first blush. Certainly the person would not be seeking a lawyer if he or she did not feel the need for legal assistance. But there are some cases when a lawyer has an ethical duty to not accept a case, and sometimes it’s just the best thing for the potential client that the lawyer refuses to take on the client.
Your Case Could Be Frivolous, Which Could Get You Into Trouble
Lawyers have a fiduciary duty to their clients, meaning the lawyer must place the client’s financial needs before the needs of the lawyer. Breaching this duty by doing things that harm the client legally or financially can have criminal and other consequences for the lawyer. Starting litigation for a client when the case is frivolous is a breach of duty because it could get the client into legal trouble. It could also be a breach if the lawyer knew there was no remedy available for the client but still took the client’s money to work the case. Or the case could be frivolous if the client wants to sue someone as a form of harassment. Courts don’t like this.
There Are No Damages
The lack of legal remedy is a major reason lawyers refuse clients. I have had numerous clients consult with me only to discover they do not have a case, not because they were not injured in some way, but because there is no legal remedy available for them. In many instances the law requires damages (the amount of money that represents the loss, injury, or damage sustained by the plaintiff) as an element of the cause of action. It is therefore possible for a plaintiff to perceive an injury to his person or property committed by a defendant, but if the plaintiff did not sustain any loss that can be repaid by the defendant, the plaintiff has no case.
For example, imagine two neighbors in a suburban subdivision. If Neighbor 1 steps on Neighbor 2’s yard while mowing his own lawn, a trespass has technically been committed. Neighbor 2 could sue Neighbor 1 for trespass. But what are the damages? Neighbor 1 did no lasting damage to Neighbor 2’s yard. In court the judge would likely agree that a trespass has been committed, but the judge would likely not award any damages to the plaintiff. Meanwhile the plaintiff has likely spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on legal fees and gets nothing in return from the court except a document that basically says “Plaintiff, you are right. So what?”. Most lawyers would pass on a case like this one because they see it offers no real benefit for the client but costs the client money.
The Defendant is “Judgment Proof”
There are other reasons a lawyer might refuse to accept a case or client. For example, the proposed defendant might be “judgement proof” meaning he or she has no money or assets to go after. For example, during a recent divorce case the opposing spouse committed several civil offenses against our client for which our client could sue her in civil court including slander, liable, fraud, interference with business contracts, and more. Alas, she has no money or assets with which to pay my client even if he won a law suit against her for these offenses. She is judgment proof, so we encouraged him not to sue her in civil court.
The Lawyer May Be Conflicted Out
The lawyer might be “conflicted out” meaning he or she has interacted or represented one of the proposed parties in the litigation before. In fact, some litigants will consult with several attorneys or all of the attorneys in a smaller town before filing a case. By consulting with these attorneys, when the other party tries to find a lawyer, the local ones will be conflicted out. By the way, the lawyers don’t like this at all, because now they can’t do business with the second party, and they made no money off the first party.
Any given attorney can turn down a case on any given day, but if no attorney will take your case, that is a sign that you likely do not have a legitimate case. If you are in a situation where you think you need a lawyer, but no lawyer seems to want your case it is likely because there is nothing of value to be gained for you. If you seek a lawyer and get turned down, I recommend asking the lawyer(s) why the case is not attractive because many times if a lawyer does not want your case it’s because the case is not a good one for you.