Going to court can be exhausting, and doubly so if your lawyer doesn't do their job. Bringing a legal malpractice suit against your attorney is a way to recover damages that you should have gotten, had your lawyer acted competently. However, it also creates an added layer of complexity. Here's a breakdown of the so-called "case-within-a-case" structure of a legal malpractice.
A Working Example
Let's say that you'd hired a contractor to work on your house. Unfortunately, he forgot to put his truck in park and it rolled directly into your living room, shattering your windows and causing thousands of dollars' worth of damage. The contractor was clearly in the wrong, but he refused to admit fault, so you hired an attorney to help recover the money you're owed. However, the attorney misses the filing deadline, so the court throws out your case and you can't recover any damages at all.
In this example, you'd be well within your rights to sue that attorney, since it meets the two necessary standards for legal malpractice:
- Your lawyer was negligent and didn't live up to the level of basic prudence (in this instance, missing a deadline).
- This negligence is why you lost the case.
Just because an attorney does something wrong doesn't automatically translate into legal malpractice unless that specific error is what dooms your claim. For a legal malpractice claim to be successful, you need to show that the lawyer turned a sure thing into a losing proposition. You need to prove the merit of your claim against the attorney and show that you should have won your original lawsuit. This is why many experts in legal malpractice law refer to the "case-within-a-case" aspect of the work.
Missed deadlines are a common basis of legal malpractice, since they're easy for juries to understand and simple to prove. However, there are other much more complex reasons to bring a legal malpractice suit, which aren't always obvious on the surface. If you feel that something went profoundly wrong in a case you were involved in, you could have a legal malpractice case on your hands. The details are key, though, so you'll want to be sure to have a seasoned malpractice lawyer on your side.