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El Segundo California Legal Malpractice Blog

What is a legal conflict of interest?

When looking for an attorney, some California residents prefer one who is friendly and approachable, while others prefer an aggressive, efficient style. You may agree with other clients that professionalism and ethics should be important traits your attorney values, whether he or she is amiable or no-nonsense. It can violate your trust, not to mention your rights, if your attorney’s own interests – whether professional or personal – lead to unprofessional conduct.

A conflict of interest is defined as a situation in which your attorney’s personal judgment or loyalty clashes with his or her duties to you, according to the American Bar Association. Some examples of a conflict of interest might include the following:

  • The opposition is a close friend or family member of your attorney.
  • Your attorney still feels some loyalty to a former client, who is now part of the opposing counsel.
  • Your opposition is a current client of the attorney you are considering.
  • Your attorney’s personal or professional beliefs go against your legal interests.

An attorney's loyalty to a client

When a person in California seeks legal representation for any type of matter, they should be able to trust that their attorney will always work in their best interests. In fact, the American Bar Association indicates that this trust is part and parcel of a lawyer's ethical responsibility to each and every client they represent. The guidelines by which legal professionals are held stipulate this exact thing.

The professional code indicates that an attorney must ensure they can provide independent judgment and loyalty to a client. In addition, a lawyer must take active steps to identify any potential conflict of interest and then prevent them. 

New law requires California attorneys to disclose mediation rules

Mediation is a way for two parties to settle their issues privately without heading to the courtroom. Whether it is a workplace controversy or two spouses getting a divorce, many prefer this method to get their problems solved faster without as much courtroom drama or expenses.

However, many underestimate how confidential the process is. If your mediation session did not end the way you wanted it to, you will have immense difficulty with any post-settlement disputes. You agreed to keep the session and the matters discussed private, and now there is almost nothing you can do to reverse your actions. The California Senate recently realized how many clients go into mediation not knowing the consequences, so they recently passed a bill to enforce attorneys to give more of a warning about the process.

Recreating a botched case to prove malpractice

California courts have an interesting way of investigating legal malpractice claims in court, known as the case-within-a-case method. While this method is not unique to the state, it is prevalent here. 

Those considering making a formal complaint or a professional negligence case against a lawyer could benefit from knowing how to prove wrongdoing in legal practice. Additionally, it may be prudent to set certain expectations, such as preparing an idea of the time and resource commitments typically necessary to pursue these claims.

Could my lawyer testify against me?

You probably trust your lawyer with a great deal of information. Some of it might be potentially damaging: to your case, your reputation or your finances, for example. California attorneys are bound to a certain code of ethics that prevents them from divulging this information under normal circumstances.

Certain conditions, such as a criminal investigation, could force state and federal prosecutors' interests into conflict with the duty of trust of your legal representative holds. However, as explained by FindLaw, any responsibility your lawyer might have to testify against you — and to what extent that testimony must reveal potentially incriminating evidence — could be the subjects of argument.

What are the consequences of legal malpractice?

You place a certain amount of trust in an attorney you hire to protect your legal interests. As a highly educated professional, lawyers are placed in such esteem as surgeons, financial advisors and others who are expected to make important decisions and guide others who know less about these professions. As such, when you and other Californians are let down by an attorney you trusted, the results can be devastating.

According to the American Bar Association, there are several common ways a legal professional can fail in his or her duties and cause harm to you, as the client. These include the following:

  • Failing to correctly apply the law
  • Misusing your money, accepting a bribe, knowingly engaging in a conflict of interest or engaging in other types of fraud
  • Failing to meet filing or service deadlines
  • Not communicating with you
  • Procrastinating on your case
  • Losing files or documents important to your case

What are the most common types of legal malpractice?

When you hire a California attorney to represent you in a legal matter, you expect him or her not only to have the requisite education, training and experience to competently handle your case, but also to take your case seriously and diligently protect your rights. While no attorney can guarantee the outcome of a case, you nevertheless expect your lawyer to obtain the best possible outcome for you.

Most attorneys adhere to the high ethical standards required by the Code of Professional Responsibility. However, some commit malpractice. In such a case, you have the right to sue him or her. As FindLaw explains, malpractice claims usually fall into the following three categories

  1. Misusing client funds
  2. Failing to appear in court at the proper time
  3. Performing inadequate legal work

California considers new regulations on legal malpractice

California’s recently been making the news for creating newer laws that give employees more freedom when it comes to harassment cases in the workplace. However, laws for multiple industries could face potential changes as the state tries to make it fair for more employees or customers. The legal field is not immune from this.

Recently, the state’s Board of Trustees allowed the authorization of the Malpractice Insurance Working Group (MIWG) to conduct a study on legal malpractice in the state. Depending on how their research and proposals go, California could see numerous changes that affect filing for a legal malpractice claim.

Identifying permitted disclosures of information

Dealing with legal matters is never easy, and often a resource that people in El Segundo only pursue as a last resort. Thus, if you are put in a position of needing legal assistance, the details of what got you there may be rather sensitive. Your reluctance to disclose them, then, is understandable. It is required, however, in order to ensure you have the best representation possible. The nature of the information given to their attorneys (and the circumstances in which it was given) is why so many of those that we here at the Lange Law Corporation work with feel so betrayed when those attorneys disclose it. 

It is widely known that your attorney is prohibited from sharing information with others about your representation without your consent. What is less well-known is that are, however, certain exceptions to this rule. According to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct (as shared by the American Bar Association), your consent is not needed for your lawyer to reveal information in any of the following cases: 

  • To avoid the reasonable potential of suffering death or serious bodily harm
  • To prevent you from committing a crime or furthering a fraudulent scheme
  • To prevent, mitigate or rectify any financial damage your actions have done (or could do) to another
  • To defend themselves in a criminal or civil matter or controversy that arises due to their relationship with you
  • To comply with a court order
  • To address any potential conflicts of interests that may arise from a change in their employment or the structure of their firm

Act quickly when a lawyer blows the statute of limitations

Lawyers often have many important dates in their calendars. However, few deadlines are as essential to a case as the one described in the relevant statute of limitations. For an overview of the concept, feel free to look at FindLaw's article on the subject of legal time limits — but the general idea is that this is the absolute latest a California or federal court would consider your case under normal circumstances. 

Nobody would fault an attorney for making a few mistakes. Here at the Lange Law Corporation, we are the first to admit that, even with a law degree, a person remains a fallible human being. However, blowing the statute of limitations for a case is not something we easily write off as an innocent mistake. 

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