Lawyers don’t all come with the same set of skills and some of them make mistakes that end up harming their clients.
At times, those mistakes can amount to actual malpractice — at which point clients have a right to sue their attorney over the bad outcome of a case. These types of claims are sometimes called a “case within a case,” because the real question is, “Could my outcome have been any different if my attorney had done his or her job better?”
First, it’s important to understand what is and is not legal malpractice. A billing dispute — being charged more than you think is fair — isn’t necessarily malpractice. However, billing you for services not actually rendered could amount to malpractice by fraud.
Second, a lower settlement than you were expecting or a bad outcome of a case doesn’t usually mean malpractice is involved. Lawyers can only make educated guesses about the value of a claim before all the evidence is in and some are simply better negotiators than others. Lawyers also sometimes lose their cases, even when they think they have a strong one.
So, when should you talk to another attorney about suing your lawyer for professional malpractice? It might be time to get another attorney’s opinion about the situation when:
- Your attorney seemed ignorant of the actual law and it destroyed your case
- Your attorney missed a critical filing deadline or made filing mistakes that ended your lawsuit
- Your attorney acted without your consent and accepted or denied a settlement offer
- You found out that your attorney has ties to the defendant in some way, and the conflict of interest was never disclosed prior to accepting your case
- Your attorney passed important work off to a paralegal or secretary and you believe your case suffered as a result
- Your attorney abruptly withdrew from you case or fails to appear at court, leaving you without adequate representation
- Lying to you about the case or his or her experience
While these aren’t the only examples of legal malpractice possible, they are probably among the most common. The most important question you should ask yourself is whether or not a second look at your case to see if professional malpractice is an issue might be worth the effort. In most cases, it certainly can’t hurt.