What happens when your lawyer doesn’t admit a mistake?

Everyone makes mistakes. You do. Your lawyer does. Making mistakes is part of being human, although you certainly hope your lawyer doesn’t make a mistake with your case.

Still, despite your attorney’s best efforts, there’s always a chance your lawyer will botch something. Sometimes these mistakes won’t make much difference. They may not have any real impact on your outcome, or they may simply delay it by a short, reasonable amount of time. Other mistakes, however, can have serious repercussions. And if your lawyer makes such a mistake, the California State Bar says you deserve to know.

Your attorney’s responsibility to communicate mistakes

Rule 1.4 of the California Rules of Professional Conduct addresses your lawyer’s duty to keep you informed about your case. It says your lawyer must keep you “reasonably informed about significant developments relating to the representation[.]”

This doesn’t require your lawyer to inform you about every single development. Notably, it excludes:

  • Information your lawyer cannot share due to protective orders, non-disclosure agreements or as a matter of law
  • Mistakes that come to light after you have ended your attorney-client relationship
  • Insignificant matters

Of course, it’s possible that you and your attorney may disagree about which mistakes are significant and which are not. In such a case, you might expect your attorney to heed the guidance of the American Bar Association (ABA). The ABA says that attorneys should report all mistakes that another, “reasonable” attorney might expect would:

  • Cause you harm
  • Cause you to think about hiring a different attorney, even if the mistake didn’t harm you

What does the ABA see as “harm” in terms of your case? Your attorney’s mistake might harm your case if it would cause you to lose, suffer a worse monetary outcome or even experience significant, troubling delays. The ABA considers all such mistakes to be “material”—or significant—errors. And your lawyer is obligated to report them.

Communication failures and legal malpractice

The State Bar always frowns upon lawyers who fail to report material errors. Those failures are ethical violations. And proof of those violations may help you win a legal malpractice suit when you can also show how you could have obtained a better result with better, more ethical representation.

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