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What is Legal Malpractice?

Legal malpractice can be one of the most frustrating things to deal with: you’ve already hired a lawyer to resolve your legal issues, but then their conduct creates additional legal problems. What can you do in such situations? Find out how a legal malpractice lawyer can assist you.

At Osborne & Francis, we go by the saying, “Real Tough Lawyers,” because we aren’t afraid to back down from a defendant, whether it be a large corporation or an attorney who has committed malpractice. If you or a loved one hired a lawyer and were affected by their negligence, contact us at (561) 293-2600 for representation. We are the law firm Florida residents have trusted for years to handle their most sensitive issues. We’re prepared to bring justice wherever it’s needed. 

Legal malpractice happens when a lawyer doesn’t follow the standards they are supposed to, and their error affects their client negatively. All lawyers have a duty to follow ethical standards and rules of professional conduct. If they fail to do so, they may be sued under legal malpractice laws. Legal malpractice can happen in basically any case, whether it be a car accident claim, defective product case, or any other type of legal claim.

When dealing with legal malpractice, it becomes necessary to secure additional legal counsel to represent you against your former lawyer. Suing a lawyer is no easy task, since lawyers are trained in the law, and they will usually fight hard to defend themselves if accused of malpractice. Read on to learn more about your rights in the event of legal malpractice. 

What Are Common Examples of Legal Malpractice?

Legal malpractice can take on many forms and involve many different types of conduct. The following are examples of violations that could form the basis of a legal malpractice suit: 

  • Substance abuse: For instance, if your lawyer shows up to court or a meeting with you while drunk
  • Lack of zeal: Under ethical rules, all lawyers are required to represent their clients “zealously” and to the best of their ability. If your lawyer is not taking your case seriously or is cutting corners, and it costs you, you may have a malpractice claim
  • Lying: Any acts connected with your case involving lying or deception could lead to a legal malpractice claim
  • Illegally obtaining evidence: For example, using illegal means to obtain evidence, such as hacking, stealing, breaking into the other counsel’s office, etc.
  • Breach of confidentiality: This is a big one. Once you form a formal relationship with an attorney, they are bound by the attorney-client privilege. This means that any and all communications between you and them must be kept private and confidential. For example, lawyers cannot post details about your case on their personal social media account 

There are various other acts that could constitute legal malpractice. If you are unsure at all about the way your lawyer is handling your case or treating you as a client, you may need to contact a legal malpractice attorney to determine whether you have a claim. Don’t discuss these matters with the violating attorney without a new lawyer, as they may eventually be the opposition in a malpractice suit. 

Legal malpractice cases can be complex and may involve several elements that all need evidence of proof at every step of the way. Bringing a case against an attorney or a law firm is itself a challenge, as you would be going against people who regularly deal with the law.

What Are the Four Elements of a Legal Malpractice Cause of Action?

Generally speaking, there are four elements that need to be proven in a legal malpractice case. Proving legal malpractice isn’t as simple as saying, “My attorney didn’t try hard enough to win my case.” 

You would need to show that: 

  1. The attorney owed you a duty of care
  2. The attorney breached their duty
  3. Their breach was the cause of your losses
  4. The losses are real, actual, and measurable 

These four points are similar to elements in other professional malpractice cases, such as medical malpractice. Proving the first point is usually the easiest, since all licensed attorneys are bound by certain duties as outlined by ethical rules and professional responsibility codes

Proving causation is usually the most difficult, as you need to show that you probably would have won your case if the lawyer had followed the correct rules. 

For instance, suppose a lawyer fails to return a phone call. This might not immediately qualify for a legal malpractice claim, unless it can be proven with certainty that they would have won the case if not for the lawyer’s failure.

What Do Damages Cover in a Legal Malpractice Case?

Damages in a legal malpractice case can cover a substantial amount of losses caused by the attorney’s negligence. While these may vary from case to case, they generally cover:

  • Financial losses stemming from the malpractice (that is, what you would have recovered if you had won your case) 
  • Attorney’s fees
  • Lost wages (for instance, from missing work due to trial)
  • Emotional distress

Lastly, in cases involving extremely negligent or reckless behavior, or intentional behavior, the court may order that punitive damages be issued. These are damages intended to punish the defendant for their wrongdoing and deter them from such conduct in the future. An example of this might be in cases where the lawyer intentionally sabotaged their own case to get themselves out of representation.

Why Do I Need to Hire a Lawyer to Handle a Legal Malpractice Case?

As mentioned, legal malpractice cases can be complex and may involve several elements that all need evidence of proof at every step of the way. Bringing a case against an attorney or a law firm is itself a challenge, as you would be going against people who regularly deal with the law. 

It’s in your best interests to hire a lawyer if you feel you have been subject to legal malpractice. We at Osborne & Francis have the experience needed to handle malpractice claims. We believe everyone is entitled to proper legal representation, and that they are also entitled to recover damages when that right is violated. Contact us at (561) 293-2600 to schedule a free consultation to determine what your next steps are toward recovery.

Legal Malpractice FAQs

The following elements must be proven in a legal malpractice case: 

  1. The attorney owed you a duty
  2. The attorney violated their duty
  3. The violation or breach was the cause of your losses
  4. The losses can be quantified and measured 

Proving these elements requires extensive documentation, so you may need to reach out to a lawyer for help proving legal malpractice.

The statute of limitations (filing deadline) for legal malpractice in the state of Florida is two years. In other words, you have two years to file a claim against the lawyer or law firm for malpractice negligence. 

Thus, you don’t have forever to file your case. It’s better to file sooner than later, so you don’t miss the filing window. Also, that way, the events, and your questions will be fresh in your mind, and it will generally be easier to secure evidence for proving your case in trial.

There may be various alternatives to suing for legal malpractice. Pursuing a full lawsuit can sometimes be costly and time-consuming. Other alternatives include: 

  • Reporting the lawyer to the relevant state disciplinary board
  • Getting a new lawyer to handle your case (for instance, if the damage is not severe)
  • Engaging in settlement negotiations or mediation to resolve the dispute (this may still require hiring a new lawyer to guide you through this process) 

At any rate, if you feel you may have been subject to legal malpractice, it’s important that you speak with a different attorney for advice on what your options are.

Each case is different, and legal malpractice cases can take anywhere from several months to a year or longer to complete. One issue to consider is that the original claim that you hired the lawyer for might still need completion. 

For instance, if you had a personal injury matter, and the case was interrupted due to legal malpractice, that original claim still needs to be resolved, which can add to the overall time. If you have any questions at all about legal malpractice and/or the underlying original claim, contact Osborne & Francis at (561) 293-2600. We work hard to ensure each client of ours is justly compensated.

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