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When does a lawyer’s mistake become legal malpractice?

Like all human beings, lawyers make mistakes, but sometimes those errors result in consequences. In the end, each legal malpractice claim is decided based on its own set of circumstances.

By definition, legal malpractice occurs when a lawyer fails to meet the standards and codes of ethical and professional conduct. Attorneys must be negligent, in breach of contract or otherwise in violation of California’s Rules of Professional Conduct.

Considerations to determine legal malpractice

Not getting the desired or expected outcome in a legal case is typically not enough to justify a malpractice claim. There are three fundamental questions to determine whether an attorney’s mistake warrants a lawsuit:

  • Was the lawyer negligent?: Attorneys must act consistently with the community standard of care, but not every error amounts to a breach in that duty. Decisions by a lawyer that, at one time, were made in good faith may look careless in hindsight.
  • Did the lawyer’s mistake cause damage?: This question is often the best barometer of whether a malpractice claim is justified. Even when an attorney commits an obvious mistake, that error must injure the client. For example, if a lawyer fails to file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations expired, the client must prove that he or she would have won the case.
  • How significant were the damages?: Legal malpractice cases can quickly become expensive. That’s because the person making a claim essentially has two cases – malpractice and the underlying case that resulted in the claim. Clients should turn to an expert to establish legal fees in addition to proving the lawyer’s conduct breached the standard of care.

Are you a victim of legal malpractice?

While the questions above are basic, legal malpractice can result in a number of instances, including conflicts of interest, ethics violations, incompetent representation, missed deadlines and intentional wrongdoing.

An experienced legal malpractice attorney here in California understands the complicated nature of these cases and how these mistakes can lead to personal and financial harm. Your lawyer will work to hold a negligent attorney accountable and help you receive the best possible outcome.