Defining legal malpractice

Legal counsel is often an expensive service. You hired a professional attorney who is licensed by the state bar, and you expected results from your investment. As with other services, sometimes the results don’t meet your expectations. Can you sue for legal malpractice?

Losing a case itself—or disliking your attorney—is not grounds for a legal malpractice claim. Even if your attorney made an identifiable mistake or error, there are criteria before bad service becomes malpractice.

Proving damage to your case

There are three basic elements in any legal malpractice case.

  • Evidence of malpractice
  • Proof that your case was damaged
  • A correlation between the malpractice and how your case was damaged

While there are many examples of legal malpractice, data from legal insurance providers says frequent causes are conflicts of interest, failure to file documents, missed deadlines and simply not knowing the law accurately. There may also be ethical violations, such as lack of communication and dishonesty.

Proximate cause and delivering to a client’s standard of care

Your evidence must prove proximate cause to your case. This means that your lawyer’s mistakes or unethical actions need to negatively affect the outcome of your case. In other words, you need proof that your lawyer wasn’t just difficult to work with or incompetent, but that his or her actions were directly responsible for the result.

Bad service itself doesn’t make for legal malpractice. Instead, there needs to be clear evidence that your outcome was due to bungled representation. When you hire a lawyer, it’s because you are at a critical juncture in your life. You want top notch service and you pay accordingly. If your attorney does not deliver professional service, he or she is culpable for the outcome.

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