Professional Liability in the State of California: Proving Legal Malpractice
The California’s court system is one of the largest in the world, serving a population of more than 39 million people. According to the Judicial Council of California, in the fiscal year of 2015-2016, 6.2 million cases were filed in the Superior Courts for matters from civil, criminal, family and juvenile, probate, mental health, appeals and habeas. With those statistics, it should come to no surprise that you or someone you know may be involved in a situation that requires the need of a legal professional and the expertise of an attorney. Unfortunately, there are attorneys who work without due attentiveness and diligence, which can result in damaging consequences for your case.
If you are seeking to file a lawsuit against your attorney for malpractice, there are important factors you should consider. For more information based on a specific case, consider speaking to a professional attorney who can answer your questions or concerns.
Demonstrating Legal Malpractice Is not an Easy Feat
As discussed in our September 21, 2018 article, “Understanding the Difference Between Ethics Violations and Legal Malpractice,” Legal malpractice cases are complicated case, inherently involving a case within a case. A claimant must not only prove the attorney committed malpractice, but a claimant must also prove that but for the malpractice, a more favorable result would have been achieved. Therefore, when it comes to professional liability in the State of California, it is not enough that you did not have a favorable outcome in a lawsuit. Without something more, it is unlikely that you will be able to maintain suing your attorney based on an unfavorable lawsuit. However, you may have a successful case if your attorney made serious mistakes or oversights throughout the case proceeding rising to the level of a breach of the standard of care that caused you damage in the underlying case.
Proving that an attorney made a mistake sufficient to establish legal malpractice is a complicated undertaking. In the State of California, in order to successfully demonstrate that your attorney committed malpractice, you will be tasked with establishing that your attorney’s action or inaction fell outside the reasonable standard of care (duty of care). This is in comparison to other attorneys in the same field of expertise, under similar conditions, and with regard to a similar issue.
A professional malpractice case against an attorney will usually be unsuccessful if it is presented on the simple fact that the attorney lost a lawsuit. In order to succeed in a malpractice lawsuit in California, you will need to demonstrate the following elements:
- An attorney-client relationship: A professional relationship existed between you and the attorney – this will generally indicate that the attorney owed you a reasonable duty of care.
- Breach of the standard of care: The attorney breached the duty of care – the attorney was negligent or careless in the agreed representation.
- Damages caused by the breach: You, the client, suffered damages – as a result of the negligence, you suffered financial losses.
Common Examples of Legal Malpractice
As previously mentioned, breach of the duty of care and damages caused by the breach are key factors in demonstrating legal malpractice. Therefore, an attorney who is doing a “bad job” does not necessarily entail negligence. Mistakes may not rise to the level of malpractice. The following are common examples of attorney conduct that may be a malpractice:
- Your attorney collected payment from you but fails to take action in your case, the delay of which harms your case.
- Your attorney failed to meet the filing and/or service deadlines, such as filing a claim after the California’s statute of limitations has already run or failing to respond to discovery demands within the time deadlines imposed by statute.
- Your attorney settled your case without your informed consent.
- Your attorney failed to apply the law, or research the law, in accordance to your specific case.
- Your attorney shared confidential information about your case to a third party without your consent.
- You have reason to believe that your attorney misused retainer funds or improperly billed you for things outside the scope of the representation and/or without your consent.
Seek Professional Representation
When you seek the legal advice of an attorney, you are owed a duty of care. If your attorney failed to render the services agreed upon, you have the legal right to file a lawsuit against your attorney. Consider seeking the professional support of an attorney who can represent your rights as a client.
The attorneys at the Knez Law Group, LLP., have extensive experience in the field of professional liability claims in the State of California. If you have reason to believe that you suffered losses as a result of legal malpractice, seek the guidance of a proficient team of attorneys who will champion for your rights.