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El Segundo California Legal Malpractice Blog

Knowing if your attorney improperly withdrew

When you hire an attorney in California, you are putting your trust in the hands of a professional who you believe will fight for your rights and represent you in the best light possible. While this is true in most cases, there are some incidents when an attorney fails to do his or her duty and leaves you, the client, to deal with the negative consequences. This could mean fines, fees or even jail time. We at Lange Law Corporation work hard to ensure that you receive compensation for any wrongs that were done to you, especially if your attorney failed to properly withdraw.

It can be difficult to know what qualifies as improper withdrawal. According to the Cornell University Legal Information Institute, your attorney must give proper notice of withdrawal from employment if he or she feels incapable of handling the matter involved in the case. If he or she ceased employment from you, but did not notify you of the decision, this may be considered improper withdrawal.

What is a case within a case?

When California residents hire an attorney, they expect him or her to represent them vigorously and competently. Sometimes, however, they lose their lawsuit and believe it to have been due to their attorney’s negligence. At that point they are faced with the prospect of suing the attorney for legal malpractice, a situation that often is called trying a case within a case.

As saclaw.org explains, the reason why such legal malpractice cases are called a case within a case is because in order to win your malpractice suit, you must prove that it is more likely than not that, but for the negligence of your former lawyer, you would have won the underlying lawsuit. Specifically, you must prove the following four things:

  1. You had an attorney-client relationship with your former attorney.
  2. Your attorney breached his or her duty of care; i.e., he or she was negligent.
  3. This negligence resulted in injury to you; i.e., you lost your lawsuit.
  4. This injury resulted in actual damages for you; i.e., you lost whatever amount of money you would have received had you gotten a favorable settlement or a favorable judgment at trial.

Understanding attorney-client privilege

Most California residents believe that anything they tell their attorney is privileged; that is, their attorney is precluded from telling anyone else. Unfortunately, that is a gross oversimplification of the confidentiality rules to which California lawyers are subject.

The State Bar of California points out that the Rules of Professional Conduct prevent attorneys from revealing certain information without the informed consent of their client. However, there are several exceptions to this rule. One exception is if a client tells an attorney that he or she plans to commit a crime or continue engaging in an illegal activity. Even in this situation lawyers are not required to divulge the information, but can choose to do so or not. If they decide not to, they are not subject to discipline. If they decide to reveal the information, they must first inform the client of their decision and also counsel him or her to pursue an alternate course of action.

Situations which are not considered legal malpractice

Sometimes Californians may feel that their attorney is not giving a case as much time and attention as they think it deserves. Before filing a legal malpractice claim, though, it is important to understand what is not considered legal malpractice and what people can do to clear up misunderstandings with their lawyer.

There are a few situations which may initially seem like legal malpractice. According to FindLaw, some people may see poor communication as grounds for legal malpractice. Before contacting the state bar association, though, it is recommended that people write to their attorney. This can help them resolve the problem, as a lawyer may sometimes be busy with family obligations or a different case. Legal fees are another area in which someone might suspect legal malpractice. Before, and sometimes after, seeing an itemized break-down, people may look at the fee and wonder if their lawyer actually spent as many hours on the case as he claims. Before filing a claim, people should typically look over the fee agreement. This can help them understand the expenses and determine if there are any fees on the bill which they did not discuss with their lawyer.   

What is professional malpractice?

California residents locked in legal battles to protect their rights may, in some unfortunate cases, find themselves fighting for much more than they bargained for. We at the Lange Law Corporation specialize in professional and legal malpractice cases, aiming to help out those who have turned to other legal professionals only to find themselves in even hotter water than before.

So what is professional malpractice, exactly? Simply put, it's applicable in any scenario where a professional hasn't adhered to the standards of their profession. This doesn't apply strictly to legal professionals. For example, taking the erroneous advice of an accountant who made poor calculations and losing money because of it can make for a professional malpractice case.

Understanding a legal malpractice case

You usually do not expect to need more than one lawyer when you seek legal aid. If you experienced legal malpractice, though, you typically need a second attorney to help you find justice. At Lange Law Corporation, we know that sometimes it is difficult to understand how you can prove that your previous lawyer is guilty of legal malpractice.

There are a few ways your new lawyer can demonstrate that legal malpractice occurred. Plaintiff Magazine says that one of these is through a case-within-a-case. Your lawyer typically seeks to prove that your case did not get the verdict it deserved because the first attorney did not give it enough time and attention. Additionally, the first lawyer usually takes the place of the original defendant. This means that if you were injured in an accident and not compensated for your medical expenses because of your attorney's mishandling of your case, this attorney becomes responsible instead of the people who originally owed you the compensation.

What is the “standard of care” in legal malpractice cases?

Under the California Rules of Professional Conduct, one of the duties attorneys owe to their clients is to act with competence in representing their clients’ interests. This means acting with reasonable legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness and preparation in handling every aspects of a client’s case. When an attorney fails to act competently, his or her client may be entitled to recover damages in a legal malpractice claim.

Legal malpractice litigation is an important avenue of recovery for those whose interests have been harmed as a result of substandard legal representation. To build an effective legal malpractice case, the plaintiff has to show that the attorney failed to exercise the level of skill, knowledge and care that a reasonably careful attorney would use in similar circumstances. 

What is the statute of limitations in California?

While most attorneys in California do their best to represent their clients in the most fair and ethical way possible, there are some professionals who do not always meet the standards that should be maintained in a legal case. If you feel that your lawyer made mistakes or failed to provide the service you needed in your case, you may have the option of bringing a lawsuit against him or her. 

One of the first steps toward finding out whether or not you meet the qualifications for pursuing a lawsuit is knowing if you are within the required timeframe. According to California Legislative Information, you must be within the statute of limitations in order to open a case. A statute of limitations is the allowed amount of time that can pass before you file a case. When it comes to suing an attorney you must file a claim within one year from the time that you discovered the injustice and it must be less than four years since the wrongful act occurred, whichever occurs first.

Common legal mistakes that lead to malpractice claims

“To err is human” is a phrase originally coined by the 18th century English poet Alexander Pope. This expression can be translated to mean “everyone makes mistakes.”

The fact that we all make mistakes from time to time shouldn’t surprise anyone. Unfortunately, sometimes trained specialists make mistakes. Because of this, it’s not unheard of for an attorney to commit an error when working with a client.

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