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I hired a personal injury attorney on a contingency-basis in a multi-million dollar case in a state court in Northern California

Elk Grove, CA |

The attorney's paralegal is practically the one who is handling my case. During the pre-trial motions, the paralegal made many legal mistakes and numerous spelling mistakes. This is aside from the formatting mistakes. The defendant’s attorney is very sharp and his written motions are almost flawless as far as the spelling and the formatting. I politely complained to my attorney several times about these mistakes. My attorney told me that I could get another attorney. Do spelling mistakes negatively affect my case with the trial judge? The paralegal told me that misspellings are common occurrence in court proceedings and that it "happens all the time".

If I am not able to find a new contingent-fee attorney who handles personal injury cases, what are my chances acting as pro-per? This is given that I am highly-educated and I have been already immersing myself in law books since my case started a year ago. And if I continue as pro-per, I plan to pay for attorney's consultations to help me navigate through the process. Naturally I prefer that a good attorney handles my case, but I might not have this option. Are state judges in California prejudice against pro-per? Are there known cases where a pro-per won against a defendant's attorney in a multi-million personal injury case? Can I find a personal injury attorney that I can pay hourly so he or she can advise me on my case? I did offer my current attorney and his paralegal to proofread any documents before they are sent to the court or to the other party. I was able to correct so many mistakes. But sometimes the paralegal sends out documents without giving me a chance to look at it before hand.

Attorney Answers 7


Although spelling and grammar mistakes will not negatively impact your case as a matter of law, they very well may impact the way in which the judge, the judge's law clerks, and the opposing party views your case. This is because spelling mistakes distract the reader from focusing on the arguments and sometimes cast doubt on the seriousness of your abilities. Motions submitted to the court should not have any spelling mistakes - while it does happen, especially in regards to the names of parties and other proper nouns which have not been discovered yet, it definitely doesn't "happen all the time."

Seeing as how this case has gone on for 3 years already, it is either a complicated case or several errors and/or delaying tactics have been used by one or both parties. As such, it would be more difficult to proceed on a pro-per basis. Judges are not prejudiced against parties representing themselves; however, most parties that do choose to represent themselves make several mistakes, which often wastes the court's time and is understandably irritating.

A pro-per plaintiff can definitely win any type of case and there is case history to back that up; however, if you choose to fire your attorney, you should consult a competent attorney who can advise you whether you have a viable chance at proceeding pro-per based on the specific facts, law, and circumstances of your case. Best of luck.

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Spelling errors do not undermine the legal force of a pleading filed with the court, so long as the document can still be understood with the errors. In long, complex documents, a few errors are common, given the short time frames usually allowed for court filings. Courts usually do not think negatively of minor errors. I have never heard of a judge granting or denying a motion based on spelling, grammatical errors, or typos.

Representing yourself in pro-per is possible, and while courts are not "prejudiced" against pro-per litigants, the court and its staff are prohibited from giving you legal or strategic advice, and you will be responsible for fully understanding the law, including procedure, evidence rules, strategy, etc.

It is important that you have full confidence in your attorney. If you have lost that confidence (and from your post, I would guess it is at least waivering), you should meet with your attorney and air your concerns. If you and your attorney cannot repair the relationship, consider consulting with other attorneys to see if someone more suitable can substitute in.

If your sole concern is spelling mistakes in a pleading filed with the court, it is probably a bit extreme to fire an otherwise effective attorney. Maybe you could offer to proofread your case documents before they are mailed or filed?

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You attorney should proof read everything before signing the motion. Why doesn't the attorney spell-check the document before printing? Very odd...

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Spelling or other mistakes can occur. I kick myself when I file something not perfect. But the time frames sometimes prevent review of the filings unfortunately. What you need to know is whether your attorney is skilled in trial and negotiations. The defense is likely to make an offer - how much will that be? That depends on your damages and other factors.

Do you like your attorney? Why did you chose him or her in the first place?

I would not suggest to do it alone. What if this case goes to trial. Whether you are educated or not the jury trial is something you should have some experience. How do you you lay a foundation to introduce evidence? What about hearsay? What are all of the exceptions? What about the exceptions to the exception? What is a for cause challenge to the juror? What is a venire? Do you get to question the jury before selection? If so for how long? What questions? Where do you stand when you ask questions? Where do you not go? When do you need to ask permission to speak to the judge? Who marks the exhibits? What is an exhibit? How do you get a transcript of the deposition? What is a deposition? How much does it cost for a deposition? Do you object to questions in the deposition? Who rules on the objections? How to you prepare witnesses? When do you object? What if their are grounds to object but objecting might alienate the jury? Do you not object or object anyway?

I mean I could list 10,000 questions that you may or may not know the answer to. A few years ago my roof leaked. I tore off my own roof and replaced it. I will NEVER EVER do that again. They have roofers for that. It was so much of a learning curve that it offset any savings I had obtained by doing it myself.

LASTLY. Finding a new attorney may prove difficult. Why? Because your current lawyer would have a right to lien whatever proceeds you get in this case. The amount of the lien depends on the time and work spent by him or her to get you to this point.

The above information does not establish an attorney client relationship nor is it meant to provide legal advice.

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First, I suspect that your view of the monetary value of your case is significantly different than your attorney's. I think that it is highly unlikely that, if the attorney thinks the case is worth multi-millions, he also has courted your disaffection and invited you to get a different attorney. Not in this universe. So, you should be having some very candid and specific discussion with your present attorney about that issue of case value. False hopes and unmet expectations can be very toxic and dangerous.

Second, I completely disagree with the responders here who state that judges are not prejudiced against persons in pro per. I say this having spent some significant time on the bench deciding cases myself. Of course they are! But no one is comfortable admitting it. Pro pers are a lot of extra work for the court and the staff. They make a vast number of mistakes and often those mistakes cause a discernible miscarriage of process and result that the court is helpless to affect. Plain and simple, hearing a case presented by a pro per is doing that day's work the hard way -- who wouldn't be prejudiced against that? That said, judges try very hard to deliver the same quality of justice and fairness to pro pers as to represented persons. But, take note that almost no judges or lawyers EVER represent themselves in their own legal matters (divorces, car accidents, etc), no matter how routine or straight-forward those legal matters might be. What do they know that you don't?

As for your plan to hire someone by the hour to read your legal docs, my view is that you are squarely in Groucho Marx territory there. Almost any attorney who would be willing to do that dangerous and meaningless task is very likely not an attorney that can bring any value to your undertaking.

I understand that you want to do this case your way and the system will allow you to do just that, even now at this stage. But it will very likely be a serious and irrevocable mistake.

My responses to questions on Avvo are never intended as legal advice and must not be relied upon as legal advice. I give legal advice only in the course of an attorney-client relationship. Exchange of information through Avvo's Questions forum does not establish an attorney-client relationship with me. That relationship is established only by individual consultation and execution of a written agreement for legal services.

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I am an attorney in Sacramento, near Roseville. I handle personal injury cases on a contingency basis. I could review your case to determine if I could help you. I also wonder if there is a big difference in the evaluation of your case by yourself and your attorney. Call me at 916-721-3324 or email at Joe

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I agree with Mr. Asatryan's response. While it may seem neurotic, I have had occasion to go through 5 or 6 drafts of a document or motion before submission. There is NO excuse for typographical errors or mistakes of the nature you have described. While legally they may not have an overt impact, I would assert they do in the end. When I receive papers with typos I start to wonder if the writer was factually sloppy and start to dig. I can not tell you what I have uncovered in this small amount of space. The errors also could cause the reader to simply stop their review.

What is scarier is that the lawyer is permitting his paralegal to essentially be the defacto attorney. While it may be common for a paralegal to draft basic documents, a motion is NOT one of them. Moreover, even if the paralegal drafted the document, if the attorney's name is on it and it is signed, one would presume they reviewed it. So, either he is sloppy and careless with no pride of authorship, or he is rubberstamping her work. Either way there is no excuse for this poor demonstration writing skills.

You may be better off with a new attorney. If your case has the value you stated above it should not be difficult to find a new attorney.

Mr. Pascale is licensed to practice law in the State of New York. The response herein is not legal advice and does not create an attorney/client relationship. The response is in the form of legal education and is intended to provide general information about the matter within the question. Oftentimes the question does not include significant and important facts and time-lines that, if known, could significantly change the reply and make it unsuitable. Mr. Pascale strongly advises the questioner to confer with an attorney in their state in order to insure proper advice is received.

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