When you have a legal issue that requires a lawyer, you expect him or her to provide a high quality of service focused on protecting your interests. However, some lawyers fail to meet that standard, which only makes your situation worse. If this has happened to you, you may be able to work with a different lawyer who can help you hold the first accountable.
You may ask yourself, “I just fired my attorney. Now you are saying to hire a different one?” Yes. It’s just like getting a new doctor to fix you up after a medical mistake. You may have initially hired a friend of a friend because you didn’t know any other lawyers. However, that person didn’t really know what they were doing. Now, you need to look for someone else who can actually help you. Here’s a little primer for the care that your attorney owes you.
Legal malpractice and “reasonable care”
Legal malpractice lawsuits typically occur when all four points below are met. Your attorney:
- Was acting in their professional capacity
- Was representing your best interests as their client
- Failed to exercise reasonable care while representing you
- And, that failure resulted in harm to you
Reasonable care is a somewhat subjective term. For lawyers, this means they must provide a level of legal service and skill comparable to others in the legal profession. In short, they must know what they’re doing, and they put your needs first. Illegal or unethical behavior, inexperience, negligence or carelessness can all lead to legal malpractice.
Examples of legal malpractice
Legal malpractice lawsuits aren’t appropriate in every situation where a lawyer makes a mistake. However, these claims may be warranted if your attorney:
- Misses a deadline to file a claim or respond to a court filing – i.e., fails to comply with the statute of limitations
- Misrepresents their experience level – for example, tells you they can handle your personal injury claim when they really only practice criminal defense
- Misappropriates or comingles funds – for example, uses money that belongs to you to pay office rent
- Charges higher fees than you agreed to at the beginning of your case
- Accepts a settlement or makes other decisions without your consent
- Fails to protect your privacy by discussing the case with others
- Refuses to return your calls or fails to keep you updated on your case
- Fails to handle your case appropriately due to ineptness or negligence
Taking the next step in a legal malpractice claim
Successful legal malpractice claims can be challenging. Not only does your new lawyer need to prove that your previous lawyer committed malpractice, he or she must also try and win the case that started all of this. Also, many lawyers are reluctant to admit they were wrong. Most won’t take allegations of malpractice lightly or admit fault of any kind to protect their professional reputations. This can make for a messy lawsuit.
There is a lot more that could be explained about legal malpractice, but it is far better to talk to a legal malpractice professional to learn about your options and next steps. In New York, you have three years to file a claim from the time the harm occurred, but the clock usually doesn’t start ticking until your first attorney-client relationship ends. However, don’t take any chances. Experienced legal advice is essential when figuring out whether a prior lawyer’s actions amount to malpractice and then calculating the amount of harm (money losses) that malpractice caused.