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What are the most common forms of legal malpractice?

When someone hires an attorney, he or she often has a lot at stake. He or she could be going through divorce, negotiating an important business deal or facing serious criminal charges. The outcome of the legal matter could profoundly affect the client’s life — for good or bad.

Most attorneys realize how much harm they can cause their clients by failing to give them the due care they deserve. But sometimes, lawyers fail to do their duty, and their clients suffer needless damages as a result.

A 2010 study ranked the most common forms of legal malpractice in the United States. Here are the top four:

1. Failure to know or apply the law

2. Planning error

3. Inadequate discovery or investigation

4. Failure to file documents with no deadline

More than 11 percent of legal malpractice cases involved a failure to know or properly apply relevant law. This could involve the lawyer failing to do necessary research, or failing to understand what he or she looked up, and thus not applying the law appropriately.

A planning error took place in 8.9 percent of cases. This means the attorney makes an unreasonable judgment error about how to handle the client’s case, despite knowing the law.

An attorney commits inadequate use of the discovery phase or investigation when he or she misses important evidence that would have been uncovered, if he or she had done the job more carefully. Finally, even when there is no deadline to file a document with the court, failing to file at all can certainly harm a client’s chances of prevailing in court.

There are several other ways to commit legal malpractice, including conflict of interest and outright fraud. Someone who believes their attorney’s conduct caused them financial or other damage should consider speaking with a legal malpractice attorney.