When facing a matter of legal urgency, individuals or businesses must put a lot of trust in someone who may be a virtual stranger – an attorney. In most situations, that trust is well-deserved and earned through a history of proven results.
Other times, a lawyer may do something or make a mistake that destroys trust and may even harm clients. But what about unethical conduct? Is that the same as legal malpractice? Sometimes, an action (or inaction) can be both. Let’s look at two examples.
Conflict of interest
Yes, this is one of the most discussed legal malpractice topics, but it is always worth mentioning because it happens frequently. Three common examples of potential conflicts include:
- Representing both the landlord and tenant in an eviction case
- Representing both the buyer and seller in a real estate transaction
- Representing both the plaintiff and defendant in a contractual dispute
Although a conflict of interest is a prime example of legal malpractice, it is also an ethical violation because it could harm clients. A legal professional with divided loyalties may compromise the best interests of one or both parties.
As a client, you can terminate the association with your lawyer whenever you like, but they must take care to end a relationship ethically. If they exit abruptly, it could leave you without representation at a critical stage.
The California Bar states that lawyers can and sometimes should end an association, but without prejudicing the client’s case. For example, they should provide notice and help find a satisfactory replacement. When it results in client harm, abandonment can be an ethical violation and legal malpractice.
Your experience may have made you wary of the legal system, but consider learning more about your options after legal malpractice. It is possible to find a loyal, ethical representative to help make you whole again.