When people hire educated professionals to provide them with services or advice, they trust that the professionals involved will be competent and adhere to best practices. When licensed professionals in regulated industries make major mistakes or deviate from the accepted standards within their professions, the people affected by their failures may be able to hold them accountable, due to the duty of care that professionals owe patients or clients.
For example, when someone hires an attorney, they expect that their lawyer will act in their best interests and provide them with guidance and representation to helps them navigate a potentially challenging legal matter. Unfortunately, lawyers can and do make major mistakes while performing their jobs that can have consequences for their clients. Any of the three scenarios below, for example, might potentially justify a client pursuing legal malpractice claim against a lawyer who has represented them.
Undisclosed conflicts of interest
The law imposes a very strict form of responsibility on attorneys when they take on clients. They have a duty to put the client’s best interests first when making decisions about their representation or advising them on certain matters. Sadly, some lawyers will look for ways to generate secondary profit off of their relationship with clients.
They might encourage a client to invest in a business run by someone they personally know or otherwise compromise the representation that they provide because of a pre-existing relationship or financial interest. When a client unhappy with the representation they received from their lawyer discovers that their attorney did not disclose a conflict of interest that likely influenced how they handled the case, the client may be in a position to hold them accountable.
Improperly managed retainers
It is common for people to hire an attorney by paying a sizable retainer upfront. Doing so means that they won’t have to constantly make payments to their lawyer, as their attorney can bill against the retainer until they exhaust the funds available. However, lawyers may make mistakes with the management of those retainer funds that could lead to malpractice claims. Not providing accurate and thorough billing records or failing to maintain retainers in separate financial accounts as required could constitute legal malpractice.
Incompetence or lack of professional knowledge
If someone hires an attorney, they have every reason to expect that their lawyer will understand statutes that govern proceedings like theirs. If a lawyer makes mistakes in the courtroom or when advising their client that expose their lack of familiarity with state statutes or court precedent, their failure could potentially be a form of malpractice. Attorneys should know when a case is outside of their abilities to handle and should advise their clients accordingly instead of offering substandard representation.
A successful legal malpractice claim can lead to financial compensation for affected clients and sometimes also significant consequences for an attorney who was not ethical or professional. Recognizing legal malpractice after it occurs may help someone fight back against the failings of a professional whom they trusted.