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The importance of “but for” in legal malpractice claims

Legal malpractice claims are essentially two cases in one. In addition to showing that the attorney was negligent in their representation, a victim also needs to show that the case the attorney was hired for was one the victim would have won if their attorney had done their job.

The legal world refers to this as proximate or “but for” causation. Essentially, the victim needs to show that they would have won their case “but for” the attorney’s malpractice.

What exactly is proximate or “but for” causation?

The law generally requires the victim to re-examine the legal issue and show how it would have unfolded if the attorney had provided proper legal counsel to meet the proximate causation standard for their case. Without this, the legal malpractice claim will likely fail.

Why is this so important?

Establishing this “but for” causation helps the courts to determine the damages, or money owed, to the victim. If successful, the court will generally grant the funds that the victim would have won if the lawyer provided adequate counsel as well as the fees and expenses the victim incurred to build their malpractice case.

What should I do if I think I am a victim of legal malpractice?

Although legal counsel can review the case and help you determine whether you have a case or not, in the meantime it is a good idea to start gathering potential evidence. Save copies of emails and other correspondence that may help support your claim.

It is also important to reiterate the need to act, and act promptly. State law has a time limit on these claims, referred to as a statute of limitations. The time limit varies by state but is generally two to three years.