Florida Legal Malpractice Law Blog

Which lawyers face the most legal malpractice suits?

Any attorney can come under fire for alleged malpractice. However, according to a recent survey conducted by a malpractice insurance broker, those who work in certain practice areas are more likely to face complaints or lawsuits for alleged misconduct than others.

Moreover, the survey found that the severity of claims rose in the last year compared to previous years. Seven of the nine participating insurers indicated paying claims over $50 million or more. With such material consequences on the line, it's worth investigating which practice areas may require a bit more caution from firms when conducting business as usual.

What constitutes a conflict of interest?

According to reporting by Insurance Journal, conflicts of interest make up the majority of legal malpractice claims. Seven out of nine legal malpractice insurers listed conflicts of interests as the leading or second-highest cause of claims they've settled in the last year in an annual survey conducted by Ames & Gough, an insurance broker.

Because of how seriously both clients and the courts take such claims, even if they are in fact unsubstantiated, it's worth exploring what exactly a conflict of interest looks like.

Why is legal malpractice difficult to prove in court?

As you know, lawyers — as much as they are highly trained professionals — are human and prone to occasional error. However, if an attorney you chose as a representative were to exhibit a pattern of negligent, unethical or incompetent behavior that led to a demonstratable loss on your part, then you could potentially have more than a simple mistake on your hands. Florida law holds lawyers to a relatively strict code of conduct. You could have a chance to recover losses resulting from direct violations of this code.

As you might expect, there would probably be a number of barriers to recovering damages in a malpractice case. The most significant challenge would likely be to establish the facts of your case in the first place. In essence, you would need to connect the actions of your attorney directly to a specific loss. One thing that could satisfy this requirement might be providing proof you would have won damages, had your attorney acted appropriately.

Mediation: an alternative for handling client-lawyer disputes

When you hire a lawyer, you expect them to help fix an issue. You do not expect or need them to add more problems to your situation. It can be frustrating when your attorney does not meet your expectations, does not return your calls or emails, or misunderstands your needs. Your knee-jerk reaction may be to file a legal malpractice suit. However, there are other things you can consider before taking extreme measures.

In mediation, a neutral mediator is hired to help two people work through disputes and resolve communication issues in, for example, a divorce case. This same concept can be used for a client-lawyer dispute. It is often less expensive than litigation and offers both sides the opportunity to work through their dispute without taking legal action.

Is there a link between attorney substance abuse and malpractice?

If you count yourself among the many people across Florida who have recently hired an attorney, you probably did so with full confidence that the person you chose would advocate on your behalf to the fullest extent possible. Regrettably, however, some attorneys fail to hold up their end of the bargain, and this becomes increasingly common when they abuse alcohol – something that an alarming percentage of them admit to doing.

According to the American Bar Association, 18 percent of today’s practicing attorneys are “problem drinkers,” whereas only 10 percent of the general population meet the same terms. Additionally, attorneys who do drink too much typically continue to do so over time, with 25 percent of attorneys who have practiced for 20 years or longer meeting “problem drinker” criteria.

Residents seeking class action lawsuit against legal firm

Cases involving professional malpractice claims in Jacksonville will often refer to examples of alleged conflicts of interest. The reason why this principle is so often cited is due to the duty that a professional practitioner owes to his or her client. In the case of an attorney, a client expects that attorney to do all that is reasonably within his or her capacity to secure a favorable outcome to said client's case. If that same attorney is also involved with another party to the same matter (whose objectives might seem to be in conflict with the client's), then one might question how his or her position can be viewed as any but compromised. 

Such is the claim being made by a group of residents from a community in Pennsylvania. They are attempting to qualify a class to bring a lawsuit against the law firm that represented them in a case against a local wood treatment plant. Their claim is that the settlement that they received from a tort claim against the plant should have been significantly higher, yet the firm's mismanagement of the case costs them hundreds of millions of dollars. At the heart of their complaint is a conflict of interest accusation. They claim such a conflict occurred when the firm chose to represent a creditor involved in the plant's subsequent bankruptcy case. The firm, for its part, denies any allegations of mismanagement or malpractice. 

Holding an accountant liable for tax preparation errors

It is often said that there are only inevitabilities in life: death and taxes. Given the complexities associated with the latter, you might actually prefer the former. This is why you hire someone (such as an accountant) to prepare your return every year. Yet it is important to remember that these professionals are not infallible; in fact, many often come to our tem here at St. Denis & Davey PA after having had to answer for tax errors made by their accountants wondering what (if any) legal recourse is available to them. 

When you hire an accountant to do your taxes, you do so assuming his or her advanced knowledge will allow you to avoid errors that you might otherwise make. Your frustration (and subsequent desire for compensation) may be understandable, then, if you later discover your return is rife with mistakes anyway. Accountants (like all professionals) have a standard that they are expected to adhere to. According to the Journal of Accountancy, holding an accountant responsible for tax preparation requires that you prove the following: 

  • That the accountant owed a duty to you
  • That he or she failed in meeting that duty
  • That you suffered because of it
  • That your suffering was a direct result of his or her errors

Highlighting the exceptions to attorney-client privilege

When one hires an attorney in Jacksonville, he or she does so with the expectation that said attorney will utilize every available resource to support his or her representation. However, an attorney can only work with what he or she has been given, and one of his or her most important resources will be the information his or her client provides. The principle of attorney-client privilege facilitates the exchange of that information. According to the National Constitution Center, the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized as much when it ruled "(i)ts purpose is to encourage full and frank communication between attorneys and their clients, and thereby promote broader public interests in the observance of law and administration of justice."

Yet having this protection in place does not necessarily mean that no information shared between one and his or her attorney will ever get out. There are exceptions to attorney-client privilege, most notably the "crime-fraud" exception. Per the American Bar Association, the crime-fraud exception stipulates that if a client provides his or her attorney with information that could assist in furthering or covering up a crime, the attorney is then legally obligated to share that information with authorities. 

Was I a victim of legal malpractice?

When you hired a Florida lawyer, you did so under the assumption that you would receive fair and adequate representation. However, throughout the course of your case, you started to feel as if something wasn’t right. Witness interviews appeared to be disorganized and your attorneys seemed ill-prepared. Relevant documents that you presented to your lawyer were left out of the trial. While you aren’t a member of the legal community, you believe that your attorney’s behavior cost you your case – and you may be right.

Here are two indicators that you may have been a victim of legal malpractice.

Addressing personal injury legal malpractice

There are multiple reasons why personal injury legal malpractice can be an especially hard issue for many people to work through. First of all, many people who are in this position are already struggling with problems related to their injury. For example, someone who was hit by a reckless driver may be going through a lot of physical pain or facing financial challenges due to taking time off work. Legal malpractice can make things significantly worse for people who are in this positon, adding to the stress and financial burdens they may be experiencing. As a result, it must be addressed promptly and properly.

Sometimes, a person who has experienced malpractice may not realize that their rights were violated, while others may think that taking action is pointless. Moreover, a car accident victim may be going through so much pain (financially, physically, and even emotionally) that they feel as if they do not have the energy to hold a negligent legal professional accountable. However, negligence must be addressed and there are many examples of unethical behaviors from mistakes during a trial to conflicts of interest. If you are unsure whether or not your rights were violated, you should familiarize yourself with the laws and go over the details of your experiences carefully. Unfortunately, this type of malpractice happens far too frequently and has caused a great deal of suffering.

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