Understanding Legal Malpractice
Imagine that you’ve found yourself in an unfortunate or complex legal situation, perhaps one regarding an issue like a car accident, divorce, or bankruptcy, and decide to hire an attorney. You find a local attorney who seems experienced and professional, and for a while, you are happy with their representation. Soon enough, however, you learn that your attorney missed an important deadline for filing some paperwork, and you’ve missed your opportunity to seek legal action. Imagine how you would feel in this situation. You’ll probably be irate and disappointed, but you might also feel a little bit powerless, too, because what are you supposed to do now? It’s not like you can sue your attorney, right?
What is Legal Malpractice?
Actually, you can. When an attorney behaves this way, it might be legal malpractice. Similar to the more-commonly seen medical malpractice, legal malpractice occurs when an attorney breaches a duty to their client. A breach of duty can occur through:
- Missed deadlines
- Planning errors
- Inadequate investigation
- Poor communication
- Failing to properly know or apply the law
- Failing to obtain client consent
- Conflicts of interest
- Failing to file documents
- Clerical errors
According to the American Bar Association, “failing to know or apply law” is the reason for 11.3% of all legal malpractice claims. Planning errors are the second biggest reason, followed by inadequate investigation or discovery.
Any breach of contract can have serious consequences for a lawsuit. When legal malpractice occurs, it can cause a client to lose their case, or even their ability to file a lawsuit, which can cost them thousands of dollars, plus take away the opportunity for them to win compensation or find justice. Oftentimes, the consequences of legal malpractice can be both financial and emotional for the wronged client.
Proving Legal Malpractice
Unfortunately, legal malpractice can be difficult to prove. In order to have a successful case, the client must prove that:
- The attorney owned the client a duty to act properly
- The attorney breached the duty
- The attorney’s breach of duty hurt the client financially
- The client suffered financial losses as a result
While proving the attorney-client relationship can be relatively simple, it can be difficult to prove that the client could have won their case if not for their attorney’s legal malpractice.
With all that said, it’s important to remember that simple dissatisfaction with an attorney does not equal legal malpractice. If an attorney effectively communicates with a client, files paperwork on time, obtains consent, and overall performs in an ethical manner, but their client still loses the case, it is probably not legal malpractice. For legal malpractice to occur, there must be a breach in duty to the client, and even if a client is unhappy with their results, it does not necessarily mean the attorney breached any duties.
Finding a Good Attorney
Hopefully, legal malpractice is never something that you have to deal with! To avoid a negligent or malicious attorney, research an attorney carefully before establishing a relationship with them. Most law firms will offer a free initial consultation, which will give you the chance to learn more about the attorney, so you can decide if they are a good fit for you. If you suspect that an attorney is disorganized, careless, or even negligent or fraudulent, search for a different attorney who can better represent you. By putting in the effort to find a good attorney, you can avoid legal malpractice further down the road.
The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.