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El Segundo California Legal Malpractice Blog

What defines a conflict of interest?

You and other California residents deserve professional and ethical representation during the legal process, whether you are involved in a lawsuit, pursuing personal injury damages or defending yourself against criminal charges. You should be able to trust that the attorneys and judges on your case are competent and not biased in a way that could affect the outcome of your trial. Unfortunately, a conflict of interest has the potential to negatively affect your case results.

What exactly is a conflict of interest? Investopedia explains that this is a discrepancy between someone’s professional responsibilities and his or her own interests. A conflict of interest can affect decisions made, which can be disastrous in a legal setting. Some examples of conflicts of interest may include the following:

  • A judge who is friends with an attorney or individual in a lawsuit and may show preference toward this person’s case
  • An attorney who is related to someone on the opposing side and has difficulty representing his or her own client
  • A juror who has strong opinions regarding a topic, such as domestic violence, and is therefore unable to be impartial during a domestic violence trial

What duty does an attorney owe to a prospective client?

You may often hear attorneys in El Segundo offering a free legal consultation. You might certainly be interested in such a service if you have a matter for which you are unsure on how to proceed legally or over which you may need legal representation. The opportunity to sit down with a lawyer and get advice without being obliged to pay or commit to utilizing their services may seem tempting. Yet one thing may be holding you back from accepting such an offer: your hesitancy to divulge all of the details of your case. 

This reluctance is understandable, yet in order for an attorney to truly understand whether or not they may be able to assist you, you will need to give them certain details. Fortunately, you can rest assured in knowing that even in a consultation, the information you share is protected. 

What problems may contribute to malpractice claims?

If you ever find yourself in need of legal services or representation in California, you will want to be find an attorney that you trust and that you believe is capable of representing you well. Just like with physicians, however, lawyers can and do make mistakes. In some cases, the actions or errors of an attorney may have negative consequences for clients. When this happens, it is important for people to know they have the right to pursue a claim.

According to Bloomberg, there can be many reasons that a person files a claim alleging legal malpractice. One study looked at data from 2012 to 2015 and found that, for small or medium legal firms, errors were the most prevalent cause of legal malpractice claims. Inappropriate application of the law or not knowing the law sufficiently were two of the biggest factors identified in these claims. For larger legal firms, conflicts of interests or breaches of fiduciary duty were found to be the most common factors called out as contributors in legal malpractice claims. 

An attorney's responsibility to a client

People in California may have a variety of situations in their lives that require them to seek the input and advice of an attorney. Whether seeking consultation regarding debt relief, divorce, a criminal charge or something completely different, a client should carefully assess a lawyer's ability to fulfill their obligations before selecting a lawyer to work with. If a client engages in a relationship with an attorney, continued vigilance is important to ensure that the original trust bestowed on the lawyer is earned and maintained.

As explained by the Houston Chronicle, a lawyer must put their own interests aside and focus on what is best for their clients in all cases. Part of living up to this standard requires that the attorney maintain confidentiality as per the client-attorney privilege stipulation. An attorney must also be properly competent to represent a client. For example, if a lawyer offers to help someone with a bankruptcy, the attorney should pose the proper education and experience or have some other means of accurately guiding the client through the process.

Reasons an attorney may withdraw from your case

If you are working with an attorney in California and he or she suddenly withdraws from the case, this can be problematic, especially if the case has been going on for a while. While you may be able to take legal action against the lawyer, you should also know that there are some valid reasons why an attorney may withdraw and still be within the confines of the law.

According to FindLaw, there are certain reasons when a lawyer must withdraw from a case. If something happens that makes it mentally or physically impossible to continue, an attorney may withdraw quite quickly. The law may require an attorney to walk away if a conflict of interest comes up.

Red flags to watch out for when talking with your attorney

Many legal malpractice cases could easily be avoided if more attorneys knew how to properly communicate with their clients. It is required for those in the legal field to maintain reasonable communication with their clients by the American Bar Association. If the client is ill-informed or doesn’t get enough information to their attorney, then the chances of losing their case significantly increases.

While discussing the case with your attorney, you need to keep a close eye on their mannerisms and actions to see if this is the right person to represent you. Just one of these potential red flags could be enough to put your entire case in jeopardy.

Alcoholism, depression common among American attorneys

Hiring an attorney to represent you in a California legal matter typically requires a substantial investment, and, chances are, you expect that the person you hire will do everything in his or her power to make your investment worthwhile. Regrettably, though, many people who hire attorneys find that they do not live up to expectations, and in some cases, alcohol abuse or depression can contribute to inferior or insufficient performance. At Lange Law Corporation, we recognize that there are high incidences of alcoholism and depression among American attorneys, and we also understand how these and other problems can affect an attorney’s ability to advocate on your behalf.

According to the Chicago Tribune, alcohol abuse has become so problematic among American attorneys that more than one-fifth of licensed attorneys in the United States consume enough alcohol for it to be a problem. While more than 20 percent of licensed, employed American lawyers struggle with alcohol problems, only about 12 percent of all highly educated professionals across other industries are problem drinkers, spotlighting the disparity within the legal profession.

There is always evidence in a strong legal malpractice case

California lawyers enjoy relatively unique protections that could have a profound impact on your legal malpractice claim. Specifically, you may not be able to use any of the details of your mediation. However, we want you to know that the Lange Law Corporation is here to help establish your case to the greatest extent possible despite these challenges.

It could be frustrating to build a case only to realize that your evidence was not valid in the eyes of the court. We are accustomed to working within these codes and getting the best possible results for our clients.

Understanding conflicts of interest

There can be many situations in which you may need to seek the advice of a lawyer in California. Regardless of the reason for which you seek legal counsel, you always deserve to know that the attorney you hire is able to provide unbiased and fair representation for you. An attorney's interests in other matters or other people may prevent this from happening. If this does, it may be considered a conflict of interest.

As explained by the American Bar Association, no interest of an attorney should bar that person from acting in the best interest of a client. A conflict may be based on a lawyer's personal views or relationships. It may also be based on representation of another client at the same time, such as if one attorney attempted to represent people on opposing sides of the same matter. Even representation of a prior client may come into play and make a lawyer unable to properly represent a new or potential client. 

How should an attorney perform ethically with my assets?

Depending on the case involved, a California attorney may hold some of the assets or property of a client for a period of time. According to the American Bar Association, the kind of care an attorney should exercise when holding the assets of a client should be consistent with how a professional fiduciary would perform. A failure on the part of an attorney to demonstrate this care may qualify as legal malpractice.

One such instance of malpractice is commingling. Attorneys should take care not to mix assets of other parties with their own. This means that any property and assets owned by a client should not be joined with the business or personal assets owned by the attorney. If the attorney has possession of securities, these should be maintained someplace secure like a safe deposit box. Some attorneys maintain a client’s money in a separate trust account.

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Lange Law Corporation
222 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Suite 2000
El Segundo, CA 90245

Toll Free: 800-481-3980
Phone: 310-955-4693
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