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What Are the Elements of Legal Malpractice?

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What Are the Elements of Legal Malpractice?

When a lawyer has failed to meet the standards of care set forth by case law and the State Bar of California, they can be liable for legal malpractice. In most cases, legal malpractice occurs when a lawyer makes an error omission in representing a client, and this caused an adverse result for that client. This can include failing to file a lawsuit or filing a lawsuit too late. It can also include advising unnecessary litigation, or so mishandling a case or a transaction that the case or transaction fails, when it is more likely it would have succeeded but for the errors or omission by the attorney.

Attorney David M. Helbraun is a Certified Specialist in Legal Malpractice with The State Bar of California Board of Legal Specialization.

Proving Legal Malpractice

To prove legal malpractice, you must first show that the lawyer’s error or omission was the type of mistake that breached their professional standard of care. You must then show that this breach actually caused the client harm, and that the damages the client sustained were a direct result of the lawyer’s actions. This can be difficult to do, especially if the lawyer acted negligently, but arguably did not actually cause harm – for instance, because the result was likely to be as poor in the first place. A complex analysis of the admissible evidence from the “case-within-the-case” – the matter the attorney negligently handled – is required to establish a winning claim for legal malpractice.

Common Types of Legal Malpractice

There are many types of legal malpractice that can occur. Here are ten of the most common:

  1. Failing to file a lawsuit within the statute of limitations period. This is probably the most common type of legal malpractice, and it can result in the plaintiff losing their case permanently.
  1. Failing to properly investigate the case. This can lead to missed evidence or poor representation in court.
  1. Misrepresenting facts or law to the client. This can be very damaging if it leads to the client making bad decisions about their case.
  1. Failing to properly advise the client on their case. This includes giving bad advice or not advising them at all on what steps to take.
  1. Failing to appear in court. This can result in a loss of the case by default.
  1. Committing perjury. This is lying under oath in court, and it can lead to a conviction for the lawyer if they are caught.
  1. Failing to properly file documents with the court. This can cause delays in the case or even the loss of the case altogether.
  1. Charging excessive fees. This is a violation of ethical rules, and it can lead to the lawyer being disciplined by the state bar.
  1. Engaging in conflict of interest. This means that the lawyer is representing interests that are opposed to each other, and it can lead to a loss of the case for one or both parties.
  1. Failing to protect the client’s confidentiality. This can lead to information about the case being released to the public.

Understanding the Elements of Legal Malpractice

When your lawyer acts negligently, you can suffer greatly. The law allows for you to file a claim against your attorney when you believe their actions have caused you significant harm.

To bring a claim for legal malpractice against an attorney, you must establish several key elements. These 4 elements include:

  1. The lawyer owed you a duty of care – Lawyers owe their clients a duty of care. This duty is to provide competent representation in court and protect their clients’ rights throughout the legal process. The lawyer must also act with reasonable diligence, and disclose all relevant information to the plaintiff. They must also avoid conflicts of interest. If the lawyer breaches any of these duties, they may be held liable for any damages caused to the plaintiff.
  1. The lawyer breached this duty of care – Breach of Duty occurs when an attorney fails to meet the professional standard of care expected of them. This can include things like failing to file a case on time, mishandling evidence, or providing incorrect advice.
  1. This breach caused damage or injury to you – Causation happens when the attorney’s breach of duty causes harm to the client. This can be difficult to prove, as it must be shown that the client would prevail in their case if not for the breach.
  1. You can show proof of suffering actual financial damages as a result of the lawyer’s negligence – Damages refer to the losses suffered by the client as a result of the attorney’s negligence. In legal malpractice cases, this is almost always limited to actual out-of-pocket financial damages, and not emotional distress. To establish losses, you must gather evidence. The type of evidence you will need to prove legal malpractice will vary depending on the case. However, some common types of evidence include expert testimony, emails and other correspondence between the lawyer and client, and billing records.

Legal malpractice can have serious consequences for both the attorney and the client. It is important to understand the elements of legal malpractice in order to protect yourself if you believe you have been wronged by your attorney.

Why You Need an Attorney to File a Legal Malpractice Claim

If you believe your attorney is guilty of legal malpractice, you will need to hire a legal malpractice attorney to assist you in filing the claims. It is understandable if you are leery of hiring another attorney after being poorly represented by your previous lawyer. However, filing a claim for legal malpractice and winning these cases is very difficult without legal representation. Legal malpractice cases are notoriously complex and require the aid of an experienced attorney. Your attorney can help by gathering evidence, including expert testimony, to show that your prior attorney’s conduct fell below the professional standard of care in California, and caused you resulting financial damage as a result.

Contact Helbraun Law Firm to Tackle Your Legal Malpractice Claim

We have over 30 years of experience helping clients through attorney malpractice cases. We know that you need someone on your side that can get you the results you deserve. When lawyers make mistakes, we are here to help the victims by providing high-quality legal advocacy. Call us today at (415) 982-4000 or fill out our confidential contact form for more information.

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