In theory, any type of sloppy or negligent error that causes you to lose your case could reach the level of legal malpractice. That being said, not all mistakes made by attorneys rise to the level of legal malpractice. The mistake must go beyond a mistake in judgment. If the attorney’s decision was one that a reasonable attorney would have made under the same circumstances, then even if that decision does not turn out well, no legal malpractice exists. In other words, simply losing a case or getting a smaller settlement than you expected does not automatically entitle you to a legal malpractice case. Your attorney must have made a careless or negligent mistake, which cost you a case in which you would otherwise almost surely have received a favorable decision or settlement. The attorney who is liable for legal malpractice could also have failed to live up to your contract, behaved contrary to the rules of professional conduct, or exhibited negligence which directly caused you a significant financial loss.
Duty of Care
Negligence is another word for carelessness; however, legal negligence requires a relationship between the client and attorney. This relationship can be a verbal agreement, but is more likely to be a written contract or agreement. This attorney-client relationship which charges the attorney with behaving reasonably toward the client is known as a duty of care. When the attorney fails to live up to his or her duty to act in a responsible, reasonable manner, then the duty of care has been breached. In order to be successful in a legal malpractice lawsuit, it may be necessary to have an expert witness. This expert witness will likely be another attorney who can testify as to what the standard of care was in this this particular instance, and how the accused attorney violated that standard.
Breach of Duty of Care Resulted in Harm to the Client
It must be shown the attorney’s failure to act responsibly or reasonably was the direct cause of harm or damages to the client. This is often the weakest link in a legal malpractice case, due to the fact that cases don’t always go the way the client hopes they will. Juries may find the case would have been lost regardless of what the attorney did or did not do unless the damages to the client are clear-cut. The damages to the client must be measurable, and it must be shown those damages would not have occurred if the attorney had acted in a reasonable manner. In some cases, winning a legal malpractice case requires the new attorney to basically re-try the original case in order to show you would have won the case had your original attorney not made negligent mistakes.
Breach of Fiduciary Duty
Some malpractice cases include charges of breach of fiduciary duty. Although this sounds like it is solely about money, in actuality breach of fiduciary duty is about loyalty. Breach of fiduciary duty can certainly include financial dealings, but when an attorney has a fiduciary duty to a client it means he or she must act in the client’s best interests. If an attorney spends a client’s retainer on a new car, then a breach of fiduciary duty has taken place. Attorneys are not allowed to use retainers for anything other than representation of the client, even if they plan to later replace the money. An attorney involved in negotiating a business deal for a client who takes a portion of the deal for him or herself has engaged in a breach of fiduciary duty. A breach of fiduciary duty can also occur when there is a conflict of interest involving attorney and client.
Fraud Committed by an Attorney
Legal malpractice may be a result of fraud committed by the attorney. Fraud occurs when the attorney makes a material misrepresentation to a client, fails to disclose facts or conceals facts in an attempt to persuade the client to take a specific action. If you suffered measurable damages from an attorney’s negligence, it could be beneficial to speak to a legal malpractice attorney regarding those damages.
Contact Legal Malpractice Lawyers
At Patrick Malone & Associates, our legal malpractice lawyers understand how devastating it can be when your attorney fails to act in your best interest. As experienced legal malpractice lawyers, we have represented individuals and small businesses in the Washington, DC metro area, Virginia, and throughout the State of Maryland. If you believe your attorney committed legal malpractice in a case, it could be in your best interests to speak to a lawyer who is experienced in legal malpractice cases and will ensure your rights are protected.
Our Washington DC legal malpractice attorneys work tirelessly from the very start to protect victims of legal malpractice. Call us at 1-202-742-1500 or 1-888-625-6635 or fill out our confidential contact form for a FREE Consultation and review of your case.
The legal malpractice attorneys at Patrick Malone & Associates have successfully represented injured individuals in Washington, DC, Arlington, Alexandria, Annapolis, Rockville, Baltimore, Richmond, Fairfax, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, and other locations throughout Maryland and Virginia.