Over the course of your career, you are likely to see dozens, if not hundreds, of Pro Se Plaintiffs or disgruntled former clients of other attorneys coming to your office seeking help. Many times, the potential new clients will bring cases dangerously close to the statute of limitations or cases already on filed in jeopardy of being dismissed.
You have reviewed the case, and it appears to have merit. How do you proceed? If the client was previously represented, it would be a good idea to contact that lawyer for their perspective. They can likely tell you items revealed in discovery or hidden issues that you may not have been told in the initial consultation. If, after this conversation, you are still interested in getting involved in the case, make a list of all potential hand grenades that are about to detonate. Take them by priority of urgency.
Comprehensive and thorough letter to the new client
Next, simultaneous to making the above-referenced list, you should send a very clear and concise letter to the client once they have signed the contract with you. Write in detail each procedural problem that appears prior to your involvement. Make a record of problems that appear to have occurred prior to your even hearing about the case. Require your client to sign it.
Looming statute of limitations
If the statute of limitations is near, get all hands on deck in your office and prepare the Complaint or Petition for filing. Pay very close attention to every single requirement and element to ensure that your Complaint cannot be attacked for a Rule 12 deficiency or for summary judgment. Review previous forms or pleadings that you have used on the same or similar causes of action. Ensure that every possible claim or cause of action is included. Have each person in the office review it along with the fact pattern to point out any possible issues with the draft. Once it is ready for filing, personally e-file or take the Complaint with copies, cover sheet, and summons/citation for filing with the clerk. On the same day, have all Defendants served and stay on top of service until it is perfected. Keep a log of all actions performed on the preparation, filing, and service of the suit.
Cases already on file
If you are taking over a botched case that is already on file, make a list of all items that need to be addressed to keep the case on the rails. Simultaneous with filing an Entry of Appearance or Substitution of Counsel, file an Amended pleading to cure any deficiencies. Determine where the client is with outstanding discovery. Answer any outstanding Requests for Admission and make a list of any potential deficient discovery problems that may exist. If a scheduling order is in place, make sure all deadlines are calendared, and pay particular attention to approaching deadlines, as it’s possible that you need to immediately notice up depositions of fact or expert witnesses. At any initial hearing, ensure that the court is aware of your entry of appearance and assure the court that you already are in compliance, or are working to be in compliance, with any existing orders.
Taking over a botched case can be a very rewarding experience once you are able to turn the tide. These types of cases can be great teachers of the value and importance of keeping your other cases on track from the very beginning. For these reasons, it is imperative to hire a personal injury lawyer can count on to prepare a case long before necessary.