Have you ever been wondering what is legal malpractice? When you find yourself in a legal bind, you want to hire the best legal representation you can find. Unfortunately, some people aren’t lucky enough to receive the best legal advice from the attorney they hire. When a person’s legal representative fails to do their job, we might ask ourselves the question: “Was this a case of legal negligence?” When is it appropriate to make a legal malpractice claim?
This article will attempt to answer these questions, and explain what is legal malpractice. But before we can discuss what constitutes a breach of duty in an attorney-client relationship, we have to talk about what a lawyer’s duties toward their clients even are.
In this article, you can find out:
- About Legal Negligence
- About Common Legal Malpractice Examples
- What Constitutes Legal Negligence Today?
- How To Prove Legal Malpractice?
About Legal Negligence
Most law schools teach hopeful future attorneys what their main responsibilities toward their clients are. Naturally, one of the most important tasks lawyers have is to faithfully represent their clients’ interests. To that end, an attorney can’t represent people whose interests are in competition with those of their other clients. So what if an attorney failed to protect their clients’ interests? What is considered legal malpractice?
To put it simply, if a legal professional has hurt their client or the client’s case, it may be seen as legal negligence. What’s more, if the lawyer has caused the client financial loss, that may be an even bigger cause to consider a legal malpractice suit.
However, there are two things that may factor into malpractice claims:
- Obviously, lawyers ought to provide reasonable advice. If they fail to do so, that could lead to serious consequences. So, in a way, that actually makes legal negligence fairly similar to medical malpractice.
- Intent also matters in these cases. Specifically, if the lawyer in question caused the client harm on purpose, the malpractice case would be clear.
Now, in order to file a negligence suit, only one of these conditions needs to be met. For example, a lawyer might simply make a wrong decision with the best intentions. Yet if their decision is unreasonable and causes the client or their cause harm, the client could still sue them.
Still, there are some limitations in legal malpractice. For example, if the outcome would have been the same whether or not the lawyer had made the mistake — it wouldn’t be a case of legal malpractice.
Common Legal Malpractice Examples
If you’re planning on filing a legal malpractice lawsuit, you’ll need to present a solid case. So let’s talk about which violations are the most common legal malpractice examples.
Everyone knows the first unbreakable rule: a lawyer must keep the conversations they have with their client private. After all, communication is a huge aspect of law practice. Actually, lawyers sometimes get in trouble for doing something without their clients’ knowledge or permission.
Obviously, lawyers also must know the law and know how to apply it. So, they must be able to present all the reasonable directions a case might go to their client. In the case of criminal law matters, the lawyer must be able to explain all criminal defense options to their client. If they don’t, and the client finds out that another option might have helped their case, they may decide to sue their former lawyer.
In fact, improperly filing other legal documents like patents or other intellectual property forms is also frequently the reason for neglect suits. When it comes to filing documents, we’ve found that missing deadlines and procrastination, in general, are a fairly common cause of disagreements.
Finally, if a lawyer is committing fraud or theft — for example, stealing from the client’s trust account — things could actually move past negligence. In fact, in these cases, the attorney might even be criminally prosecuted and possibly disbarred.
What Constitutes Legal Negligence Today?
As we have seen, legal malpractice occurs when a lawyer doesn’t represent the client to the best of their ability. Any of the examples we’ve listed above would be valid reasons for filing a suit.
Just think of it: people need legal representation for a whole range of legal issues. If you’re looking to buy a house, you’ll need a real estate attorney. You may need to file a personal injury suit or settle another legal matter. Whatever the case may be, we usually rely on and trust our attorneys completely. So when they do something that hurts us, knowingly or unknowingly, it can have disastrous consequences.
So if someone wanted to file a negligence lawsuit today, they would need to consider the following elements of negligence claims:
- Duty — a lawyer has a duty to represent their client skillfully
- Breach — if a lawyer was not able to perform their responsibilities, they would be in breach of duty
- Damages — these are the consequences of the lawyer’s mistakes or knowing actions
- Causation — the lawyer’s actions caused the damages
However, before a person could prove that there was a connection between their lawyer’s actions and the outcome of their previous legal issue, they would first need to prove that the original case would have panned out differently were it not for their lawyer’s actions. You see, that’s what makes these cases so difficult: they often contain many layers.
The Statute of Limitations for Legal Malpractice Lawsuits in Maryland
It’s not enough to just know the four elements of legal neglect. You also need to make your claim before the statute of limitations expires. In Maryland, the statute of limitations for filing malpractice lawsuits is typically 3 years from when you found out about the malpractice. That means that, if a lawyer stole from you, you would have 3 years from your notice of the damage to file suit.
But remember: you’ll also have to prove that your previous case with the lawyer in question could have had a better outcome in the absence of negligence and then build the negligence case. As you can imagine, those three years can pass by quickly — which is why it’s important to catch these things on time. Unfortunately, most people don’t even realize that their lawyer might be acting against their interests. Yet even when they do realize it, they can run into many obstacles if they decide to seek justice.
Proving Legal Malpractice
As we have previously noted, proving that your lawyer had been negligent can be difficult. Not only are there the obvious time constraints, but you also have to find a way to prove that you could have won the underlying case were it not for the legal negligence.
Of course, even if you only hired a lawyer to file a legal document for you, you deserve their full commitment and loyalty. Ultimately, no one wants a lawyer who is constantly late, doesn’t call them back or makes decisions without their go-ahead. So let’s talk about what would be the first step you can take once you discover that your attorney hasn’t been doing their job.
Collect Evidence of a Breach of Duty
First things first, you need to establish is that you ave actually hired an attorney to represent you. That means that they established a working relationship with you, which allows you to make a malpractice claim. Most of the time, people sign contracts or legal forms with their lawyers. However, an attorney’s prior relationship with the client is sometimes proof enough.
Remember the 4 elements of negligence? Establishing that the attorney even had a duty to serve you was the first one. Now, we need to show that there was a breach of duty. You need to be able to show what the attorney did wrong, whether they were late to file legal files or otherwise failed to properly handle your case.
Hopefully, the neglect would have been obvious and well-documented. Having email exchanges or other dated, written communications that might shed some light on the situation. These documents could also prove that your previous case could have had a better end.
Potential Obstacles to Filing a Legal Malpractice Claim
If you decide to sue your former lawyer, you’ll have to go through many obstacles. So let’s talk about why many people find it incredibly difficult to sue their former lawyer.
For one, nobody likes when someone sues him, least of all lawyers. Having a strike against them could impact their livelihood and future earning potential. Of course, that’s not to say that you should feel guilty about filing a claim. If the attorney in question hasn’t fulfilled their end of the deal, it’s within your rights to demand recompense.
Still, many times they’ll try their best not to have to admit to wrongdoing to protect their reputation and practice. To that end, many law companies have legal malpractice insurance which should cover the cost of these types of matters. However, there’s a catch there — insurance companies don’t like paying out either.
Because the insurance companies themselves have so much to lose, they often hire the best law firms in the state to defend the lawyers who made the mistakes. In fact, those law firms often specialize in this field of litigation, so they’re ready to aggressively defend these types of cases.
The final stumbling block you’d need to jump over would actually be the law itself. Not many people are prepared to take on such a complex legal matter. People without a law degree certainly can’t take it on by themselves.
We’ve already explained why that is: these claims often contain a case within a case, in Maryland, there’s a 3-year time constraint, and the defendants often have the upper hand. However, just like the defendants have specialized teams of lawyers, so can you.
Hire a Legal Malpractice Attorney
Because negligence cases often involve other legal matters, you’d need to hire legal malpractice attorneys. Malpractice lawyers know exactly how to deal with these types of situations. They’re going to be able to help you resolve the matter your first lawyer mucked up, and resolve the negligence claim.
However, finding a law firm that has experience in malpractice law is a bit tricky, especially when you’ve already had one bad experience with a lawyer. Still, there are a few ways to find good representation. You can always browse through a few law firm websites until you find suitable candidates.
Once you have a small selection of candidates, you can set up an appointment to visit their law office. We recommend doing this before hiring any type of attorneys. It lets you sit down with them and gauge who they are as people and ask questions about their experience. Hopefully, you’ll be able to avoid hiring someone who would do you harm on purpose.
The other kind of lawyer that might commit malpractice would be harder to spot. The well-intentioned yet incompetent ones often seem like perfectly nice people. Still, they’ll defend themselves if you sue them. Whoever you end up going up against, make sure to hire the best legal malpractice attorney you can find. As we have explained, these are fairly difficult cases, so getting good representation matters.
Should You Settle?
Most legitimate malpractice cases settle out of court. As you can imagine, lawyers have as much to lose by going to court as other professionals do. So it’s in their best interest to smooth everything over.
On the other hand, they do try their best to avoid having to pay people. Like we’ve said, attorneys also involve insurance companies — and they’re not that happy to cash out, either. That’s why it’s always best to hire someone who knows what they’re doing to deal with this in your stead.
Just recently, a Florida jury ordered the law firm, Morgan & Morgan, to pay for their former clients’ $5 million financial loss.
Of course, not all legal malpractice settlements are 7-figure sums. Still, it goes to show that it’s possible to get fair financial compensation in these types of cases. But depending on what your new legal team tells you and the severity of the situation, you may decide to settle after all.
Ideally, the law should protect us from people who could harm us. Obviously, lawyers can make mistakes or act in their own self-interest just like anyone else. However, because they are practitioners of the law, they know how to defend themselves against all kinds of accusations.
Fortunately, malpractice lawyers are there to protect everyone, no matter who the guilty party is.