When does an ethical violation result in legal malpractice?

Unethical behavior on the part of an attorney can result in allegations of legal malpractice. We have a system in place that is supposed to help reduce the risk of these violations, to help the community hold attorneys in check before their misconduct negatively impacts clients. The state bar association generally heads this system. Yet a recent report finds that the State Bar of California has failed to hold a number of attorneys accountable for misconduct.

What was this report?

Ethical violations can range from an attorney failing to respond to a client’s call or email within a reasonable period of time to trust account violations and a failure to pay clients their settlement funds. A recent report conducted by the Auditor of the State of California found the State Bar’s attorney discipline process had failed to protect the public from repeat offenders. In a particularly egregious example, the report found the State Bar dismissed or closed 165 complaints against a single attorney.

Ultimately, the authors of the report find the State Bar did not adequality discourage attorneys from unethical behavior. The report encourages the State Bar to properly investigate complaints and address issues such as conflict of interest in the future before it moves forward with closing or dismissing complaint cases.

What if I am the victim of an ethics violation?

The state encourages attorneys to mitigate the risk of an ethics violation by having systems in place to avoid conflicts of interest and encourage prompt communications as well as appropriate handling of money. Unfortunately, these guidelines are not always followed. Those who are the victims of legal malpractice due to an ethics violation and have suffered a substantial financial loss as a result can likely hold that attorney accountable through a legal malpractice claim.

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