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What Is an Attorney Malpractice Lawsuit?

Sarah Edwards | November 23, 2022

Sarah Edwards
Legal Expert
Sarah Edwards, BS

Sarah Edwards is a professional researcher and writer specializing in legal content. An Emerson College alumna, she holds a Bachelor of Science in Communication from the prestigious Boston institution.

Edited by Hannah Locklear

Hannah Locklear
Editor at SoloSuit
Hannah Locklear, BA

Hannah Locklear is SoloSuit’s Marketing and Impact Manager. With an educational background in Linguistics, Spanish, and International Development from Brigham Young University, Hannah has also worked as a legal support specialist for several years.

No one wants to be a victim of malpractice, but a lawsuit can make things right.

Summary: An attorney is guilty of malpractice if they have established an attorney-client relationship with someone, broken their duty to provide competent representation to the client, and caused significant financial losses in the client’s life. If you've experienced something similar, you may have an attorney malpractice case and be eligible for compensation.

When you seek legal advice from an attorney, you expect them to provide you with the correct information you need to make crucial decisions. Whether your attorney advises you in a personal injury claim or some other matter, you expect their advice to be accurate and in your best interests.

Problems arise when your attorney gives you bad advice or fails to represent you in accordance with legal standards. Attorneys can make mistakes. However, an attorney’s errors do not necessarily mean they’ve committed malpractice.

You may have a malpractice case if you believe an attorney’s actions led you to sustain financial losses. Your claim must meet stringent requirements to satisfy the court’s definition of attorney malpractice.

What are the elements of an attorney malpractice lawsuit?

The court has strict standards that define when an attorney’s actions result in malpractice. In general, you must prove three elements.

First, you must establish that an attorney-client relationship exists. Proving the relationship is typically as easy as providing a copy of the legal contract between you and the attorney. An attorney-client relationship exists if you’ve hired an attorney to represent you in a claim.

However, no attorney-client relationship exists if you’ve simply met with them for a free consultation. You must prove that you decided to hire the attorney for the attorney-client relationship to be recognized.

Second, you must prove that your attorney broke their duty to provide you with competent representation. All attorneys must abide by a code of ethics, which means they must represent their clients fairly and with due diligence.

While no attorney can guarantee that their client will win their case, they must use their knowledge to recommend a good faith best course of action that aligns with the law.

Finally, the attorney’s actions must have caused their client financial losses. There is no claim if the client does not suffer any economic harm from the attorney’s negligent or intentionally malicious actions.

What is an example of attorney malpractice?

Consider a personal injury claim where the plaintiff, or victim, files a lawsuit seeking compensation for their car crash injuries. When the crash happened, the defendant was speeding at 100 mph, ran a stoplight, and broadsided an SUV containing the plaintiff. The plaintiff sustained severe back injuries and a traumatic brain injury.

The defendant’s auto insurance company is also part of the lawsuit. Before the court date, the insurance company calls the attorney to offer a settlement of $5 million to the plaintiff.

The attorney fails to inform their client of the settlement offer, and the case goes to court. The judge dismisses the case because the statute of limitations has ended, and the plaintiff loses.

If the attorney had informed the client of the settlement offer, they would have accepted it. The client has no recourse since the statute of limitations has expired, and the insurance company has already canceled the settlement offer.

The client has a potential attorney malpractice claim. An attorney-client privilege existed, the attorney broke their duty of care by failing to notify the client of the settlement, and the client suffered financial damages as a result.

What are some other examples of attorney malpractice?

Most attorney malpractice claims arise when the attorney fails to treat their client’s claim with appropriate care.

For instance, an attorney who misses important deadlines that hurt their client’s case may commit malpractice. Failing to file a lawsuit according to state or federal statute limitations or not notifying a client of a settlement offer with an expiration date both qualify.

Another inaction that leads to attorney malpractice is failing to investigate legal claims appropriately. All claims must undergo a discovery process, wherein the lawyer gathers evidence and reviews the applicable laws and previous legal decisions related to the lawsuit. If the attorney mismanages discovery, they may commit attorney malpractice.

While attorneys are in a position to give clients legal advice, they must also follow each client’s instructions. If the client asks the lawyer to do one thing, and the lawyer does the opposite or ignores their instructions, the lawyer may be responsible for attorney malpractice.

Finally, attorneys must ensure that they don’t have a conflict of interest when representing their clients. A conflict of interest exists if the attorney is on retainer to provide legal advice to a business and takes on a client who is suing that business.

It’s in the client's best interests to choose another attorney who does not have ties to the organization they are suing.

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