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Ongoing attorney-client relationships, malpractice, and tolling

Ongoing attorney-client relationships are present in many different situations. A family could have a lawyer for various needs from family law matters to estate planning goals or a business may have counsel for employment law matters. Whatever the reason for the relationship, this continued legal partnership can come with special rules when it comes to malpractice concerns.

One of the biggest issues in legal malpractice cases is timing. When does the time period to file the claim end? This statute of limitations for legal malpractice claims often begins one year after the client discovers the malpractice. But what if the relationship is an ongoing one? In these situations the date can be more difficult to determine.

Que the continuous legal representation exception. California lawmakers recognize that the legal relationship is different for those who have an ongoing attorney-client relationship. As a result, the tolling period, or time limit to file the claim, can be different in these situations. In a recent case, the courts were asked to dive into this question with more specificity and found that, in some situations, the tolling date may extend well after the attorney was fired.

In this example, the court took two dates into consideration. Should the court start to toll the claim on the date the client fired the attorney and told him to send the file to his new counsel or one week later when the new attorney actually began to work on the case? Ultimately, the Court of Appeal found that the tolling period under this exception concluded not one year after the client fired the attorney but instead when the client’s new lawyer began to perform substantive work on the case due to the ongoing nature of the representation. This could prove helpful precedent for others who find themselves in similar situations.

It is important to note that this rule is limited to representation regarding a specific subject area. A client can only use this exception for a specific issue, not as a general blanket rule for any malpractice that may happen during an ongoing legal relationship.