What is Legal Malpractice?
When you hire an attorney, you expect them to act in your best interest and provide the strongest advice possible. But what happens when professional negligence occurs and deadlines are missed, serious errors are made, communication breaks down, or your attorney just doesn’t show up for court? It could be attorney malpractice.
Legal malpractice is complex issue, and it isn’t as simple as whether or not you lose your case. Just because you lost the case doesn’t mean you can sue your attorney; there are many other factors to consider.
What are common types of attorney malpractice?
While cases vary based on individual circumstances, the most common types of legal malpractice include attorney negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, or intentional wrongdoing.
Conflict of interest is one of the top reasons clients sue attorneys for malpractice. Common conflicts of interest include:
- An attorney representing a client with adverse interests to another client;
- The lawyer has a personal or material interest in the case;
- An attorney has private information from one client that could affect another client.
Keep in mind that if one attorney at a law firm is prevented from representing a client, it can mean the entire firm is prevented from participating in the case. This can be particularly challenging for law firms with hundreds of lawyers. Sometimes firms can create rules and boundaries to prevent information sharing in the event of a conflict, but they must handle the case cautiously.
Another example is “failure to calendar,” meaning the attorney doesn’t accurately keep track of the dates and deadlines associated with the case. Courts and legal disputes are incredibly deadline-driven, so missing a deadline could result in financial penalties or case dismissal. If a client suffers losses due to their attorney’s failure to meet a deadline, they may have an attorney malpractice suit.
How do you successfully prove a legal malpractice claim?
Proving attorney malpractice isn’t a simple matter. First, you’ll need to hire a new attorney to review your case and determine if there is enough evidence to pursue a claim.
You must provide significant evidence that tangibly demonstrates your attorney’s failures, including:
- The existence of an attorney-client relationship
- Evidence of the attorney’s negligence in the legal representation and that the negligence caused an injury (which could be considered a financial loss)
- Proof of the nature and extent of the injury
These types of cases can be intricate in nature, potentially requiring expert witnesses and detailed levels of proof. Working with an attorney who is well-versed in malpractice cases can help streamline the process and ensure you have an appropriate strategy for negotiating an out-of-court settlement or going to trial.
Are attorney fee disputes considered malpractice?
Attorneys who pad their time, overcharge, charge for incomplete work, or use unclear billing practices are subject to malpractice claims.
In California, the Rule of Professional Conduct 4-200 prohibits attorneys from charging an “unconscionable fee.” Who decides what is deemed unconscionable? It’s a variety of factors that depend on each case. Navigating attorney fee disputes can be complex, as the attorney in question can sue the client for unpaid fees even if a dispute is underway.
What are some examples of attorney malpractice?
While attorney malpractice claims have leveled out over the last few years, claims payouts are skyrocketing. Our team has handled many attorney malpractice cases, and we continue to advocate aggressively for our clients when attorneys fail to uphold their required duty of care.
Our office settled a case involving an attorney’s failure to properly advise a client and errors in the trial of an underlying case for $2.6 million.
Our office also represented an automotive design and manufacturing company in a legal malpractice suit against its former counsel, a prominent intellectual property firm. The case arose from a class action against the company where the law firm improperly settled with the plaintiff, failing to appropriately defend the action in the client’s best interest. A jury awarded the company $700,000 at trial.
We also received an award of $323,069 in favor of a homeowner who sued her former attorney for failing to properly litigate a previous case. Because of her attorney’s failure to represent her best interests, the homeowner was forced to pay $174,000 to a contractor who sued her for breach of contract. Our team was proud to support this client and help her receive a favorable settlement.
If you need help dealing with attorney malpractice, reach out to our team.
The information contained herein is for general purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.
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