What Happens If A Lawyer Loses A Case? (ANSWERED)

Answer: it depends on the case.

In the article that follows, we’ll discuss the various potential outcomes after a negative result.

What Happens If A Lawyer Loses A Case? (ANSWERED)


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Legal Fees

One of the first things clients are concerned about is legal fees.

And no wonder.

Lawyers cost a lot.

But what happens with legal fees after a case is lost is generally governed by the attorney fee agreement.

If the attorney fee agreement is for a contingency fee case, then the attorney will receive fees pursuant to those terms.

If the agreement says no fees if there’s no recovery, then the attorney does not expect to be paid for his time.

BUT. Contingent fee agreements do usually state that the attorney will be paid for any costs advanced by the lawyer or firm.

These are costs that are not the time spent by the attorney or staff.

These expenses might be filing fees, records requests fees, witness subpoena fees, expert witness consulting fees, and most.

You should have received a statement every single month telling you about any of those fees during the pendency of the case, so nothing about this should come as a surprise.

If the attorney was to be paid on an hourly basis, then at the conclusion of the case, the attorney will account for his time, take that money out of trust to pay himself, and then refund you the remainder if there is any left.

Regardless of the win or the loss, the attorney will be expecting you to pay for any time or expense incurred that exceeded the amount of money you have in the trust account.

That’s right.

If your case is lost, and you are not on a contingent fee, you will have to pay your lawyer for the time he spent on that losing case.

Next Steps Conference

In most cases, a negative outcome is not necessarily the end of the case.

When a negative result in achieved, as attorneys we would always sit down with the clients and talk through their options with them.

In some cases, an appeal could be possible.

In other cases, it was worthwhile to continue to reach a settlement of the issues to avoid future litigation.

In other instances, we may have discussed other claims or strategies to pursue.

Closing The File

If the case is over and lost, and there are no further steps to be taken by the attorney, he will move to close your case.

This usually involves returning any of your original documents, items, evidence, or property.

It also involves offering you a chance to obtain a copy of your file for your records.

A “closing letter” is usually prepared and sent to the client, confirming that the lawyer will be taking no further action on behalf of the client, and confirming the termination of the attorney client relationship.

Internal Actions

After a loss, away from the client, the firm or manager of the attorney who lost the case may spend some time with the attorney to look at the case and the outcome.

Were there any mistakes made? Could the attorney have done a better job?

Were there any learning moments that could be passed on to the firm?

Is the loss a sign that the attorney needs more training, or supervision?

The client who is walking away from a loss should know that most attorneys take losses very personally, and even though the client is gone, the attorney will not be forgetting a bad outcome any time soon.

If the loss is particularly egregious, the attorney managing the case for the government (if its criminal) or for the firm (if it is private) could be looking at the loss of his/her job.

Implications of No Recovery

In a contingent case, the attorneys accept the risk that they will not get paid for their time.

This is one of the reasons why they are extremely picky about whether or not to take on a contingent case.

A small firm with few cases may be relying upon the positive outcome in the contingent case to pay employees and the bills.

If the case is lost and they client does not have to pay, this can be devastating for the attorney and the firm.

In the absence of operating funds, the attorney may have to use his or her own personal funds from savings to meet the obligations of the office, or request that partners in the firm also contribute personal funds to meet expenses.

Clients don’t realize this, but many attorneys personally also do not get paid when a contingent case goes badly.

When a lawyer loses a contingent case, he may not receive any other salary from his firm for his work to pay for his own personal expenses (mortgage, gas, food, medical bills, etc).


A lawyer’s reputation is everything.

With a reputation for competence and success, an attorney has much less trouble landing clients who can afford her.

With a reputation for losing cases or struggling in court, an attorney will have a lot of trouble landing good clients who can afford her.

When an attorney loses one case, it is doubtful that the attorney will notice anything significant happening to her reputation, unless the case was particularly high profile.

Or if the client is particularly adept with the internet and social media, and takes it upon himself to slay the attorney on every forum that exists.

If the attorney loses a lot of cases though, eventually the attorney will develop a negative reputation, which could eventually lead to his exit from the profession.

Reporting An Attorney To The Bar Association/PLF

Cases are won and lost every day. When there are only two sides, someone is going to lose.

In isolated cases, if a loss is particular terrible or egregious, or the attorney was just completely out of his or her element, a report to the state bar association or the professional liability fund insurance might be in order.

If the case was malpracticed, the client might have a claim against the attorney’s malpractice insurance.

They situation might also warrant an investigation by the bar association into the lawyer.

Again, it is rare that a lost case would justify an investigation by the bar, but it happens.

Sometimes, Nothing Happens

In the end, the attorney is the attorney, not the person who suffers or gains from the win or loss outside of attorney fees.

In some instances, what happens when an attorney loses a case is…..nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

Tomorrow the day begins again, with a new client and another case.

Wrap Up

Want to learn more about your criminal justice system?

Browse our free legal library guides for more information.

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