Legal Malpractice or Just Bad Lawyering?
A lawyer is an administrator, counselor, clerk, earpiece and voice, sword and shield. It's a lot to ask and not everyone does every aspect of the job just right.
Sadly, there are bad lawyers. But that does not mean that they are committing legal malpractice or that you can sue an attorney when a case doesn't go as hoped. Lawyers do not guarantee results. They are, however, bound by the law, ethical rules, and standards of practice. And when they violate the codes of conduct that govern the legal profession, then a malpractice suit is in order.
Legal Training and Standards
The American Bar Association's (ABA) Rules of Professional Conduct have been adopted by all states but California. All licensed lawyers swear under oath to follow these codes, as well as the law and professional standards, after passing a rigorous exam ("the bar") and graduating from law school.
This long process exists in part to drill certain ideas into lawyer's heads. They can't mix their money with client funds -- that is called co-mingling -- and they must work to vigorously represent client interests while remaining within the bounds of the law. If a lawyer has an undisclosed conflict of interest, that can be a basis for a malpractice suit.
Breach of contract is another malpractice basis, as are violations of the ABA's codes. Failure to maintain the professional standards when it harms a client is a basis for a negligence claim.
Negligence is a basis for a claim whenever a person or entity who owes a duty of care breaches that duty and causes compensable harm. To prove legal malpractice, you must show the following four elements:
- The lawyer owed you a duty to provide competent and skillful representation.
- The lawyer breached that duty by acting carelessly or by making a mistake.
- The lawyer's breach was the cause of an injury or harm.
- That injury or harm resulted in financial damages.
Have a Claim?
The rules of professional conduct are many, and lawyers must follow them all. If you believe you have a malpractice claim, speak to an attorney and get your claim assessed.