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El Segundo California Legal Malpractice Blog

The common reasons you might sue for legal malpractice

When you hire a lawyer, you expect nothing less than prompt, efficient, knowledgeable and ethical representation. At the Lange Law Corporation, we understand that people may not always see eye-to-eye with their lawyers. You might not click with your attorney, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he or she was incompetent or unethical – it may simply have been a difference in personalities or a miscommunication. However, like some Californians, you might have been subjected to legal malpractice, which is an entirely different situation.

Poor legal representation can be costly, both in terms of potentially losing your case and losing a significant amount of money. FindLaw explains several ways people can experience legal malpractice, including the following:

  • Your lawyer is a no-show at important court hearings and legal appointments.
  • The phone calls, emails, text messages and letters you send to your attorney remain unaddressed.
  • Your attorney accepted a bribe or otherwise broke the law during your case.
  • Your attorney deliberately misled you or lied to you or the judge.
  • Your lawyer failed to file important paperwork in time.

Ensuring everyone has access to court reporters

When people face the judge and/or jury in a United States court-of-law, they have certain rights. One of these rights, as decided by the California Supreme Court just recently, is to have a court reporter provided during a case, regardless of whether or not a person can pay for their services. Court reporters are critical to a case, in that they record everything that was said during the trial. Essentially, they help to recreate the trial scene by writing everything that happened.

The California Supreme Court ruled that indigent people should have access to a free court reporter during their case. This stemmed from a case where a homeless man exercised his right to represent himself in court in a medical malpractice claim. He was told he would not be given a court reporter due to state budget cuts, but that he could pay for a cheaper shorthand reporter. Although the San Diego Superior Court dismissed his case three times, the California Fourth District Court of Appeals reversed the decision each time.

How 'failure to know the law' constitutes malpractice

Legal malpractice is an issue amongst cases in California and throughout the United States. This type of error occurs when an attorney is not competent to provide adequate legal counsel, and as a result, his or her client receives an unjust verdict. If you have recently hired an attorney to represent your case in court, or you feel as though your lawyer acted in a way that led to an error in your case, it is crucial that you understand how failure to know the law is a component of legal malpractice.

Attorneys should have a comprehensive and thorough knowledge of the law in which they practice, and have the skills necessary to correctly send a case through the legal process. According to the American Bar Association, however, failure to know or apply the law properly is a common type of legal error performed by attorneys in the U.S. In fact, it is involved in 11.3% of malpractice cases. In addition to applying the wrong type of principles when creating a case, failure to know the law can include clerical errors and breach of contract. It may also involve breach of fiduciary duty, which occurs when an attorney acts in a way that benefits his or her personal agenda rather than benefit the client’s case.  

What happens when lawyers fail to meet deadlines

If you have hired an attorney to help you with your case, you have put your faith in the attorney’s ability to represent you to the best of his or her ability. Attorneys have a responsibility to be truthful and upfront with their clients. That includes meeting the specific deadlines that are often given in any type of legal case. Surprisingly this type of legal malpractice is not uncommon in the U.S. According to the American Bar, failing to file documents on time is the fourth most common error made by attorneys, followed by a failure to calendar appointments and make it to critical court dates, as well as failure to know the deadline at all. Planning errors and procrastination also fall into the category of delaying deadlines.

What happens when your attorney fails to meet an important deadline? When court deadlines are not met, you run the risk of having your case delayed significantly or thrown out altogether. Different legal cases come with a statute of limitations, or a time that is allowed for an attorney to file a claim or submit documentation. This may happen if your attorney was unaware of the statute of limitations, filed the papers with the wrong department or did not file them at all. If the attorney’s negligence caused the case to get thrown out or significantly affected the outcome of the case, you may file a legal malpractice suit. The attorney may be held responsible for not following through on their end of the deal.

Legal malpractice and a “case within a case”

Say you were in a motorcycle accident, but it was clearly another motorist’s fault--they drove right into you without looking. You survived, but suffered significant injuries that took months of recovery, and now you want to sue the other driver for damages. You hired an attorney that seemed reputable. Unfortunately, they didn’t file the right paperwork before the statute of limitations expired, so a judge threw out the case that you clearly would have won. What should you do?

Defining legal malpractice

Hiring a lawyer can be a difficult decision when California residents do not have connections with one they trust. They may ask around, search online and read countless reviews before finally choosing an attorney they feel could best represent their needs. 

After making the decision, they still have to exercise a significant amount of trust, especially if they have never needed a lawyer before and are not used to legal processes. What happens, then, when attorneys violate the trust their clients place in them? 

Can your lawyer withdraw from your case?

When you hire a California attorney, you expect him or her to be knowledgeable, experienced and competent. You also expect him or her to keep anything you say confidential. Finally, you expect him or her to handle your case from start to finish.

While these are reasonable expectations, you also need to understand that your attorney has the right to withdraw from your case under certain circumstances. One of these is your failure to pay attorney fees once they become due and owing.

Breach of contract and legal malpractice

When California residents work with an attorney on a case, sometimes they may realize that their contract was breached. It is important to understand what exactly a breach of contract is, as this can help people determine if legal malpractice has occurred.

According to FindLaw, a breach of contract occurs if someone does not accomplish all of the obligations laid out in the contract. This violation can also take place if someone does not perform any of these obligations. While many people may want to begin a lawsuit as soon as they realize their attorney did not fulfill the terms of their contract, this step may not always be necessary. Some people may able to work with a mediator to resolve the problem.  

When your attorney commingles funds

At Lange Law Corporation in California, we know that when you hire an attorney, you expect that (s)he is trustworthy, ethical and competent. We also know that you do not expect your attorney to say or do anything that could harm you or your case. Most attorneys live up to these expectations every day. Occasionally, however, an attorney makes a mistake and commits malpractice.

FindLaw explains that your attorney must maintain at least two separate bank accounts: an operating account for the firm’s earned fees and a trust account for such things as retainers received from clients but not yet earned, settlement or judgment amounts on behalf of clients, or other monies that do not belong to the firm. You may not realize that when you pay your attorney a retainer, that money must initially go into his or her trust account because (s)he has not actually earned your retainer yet. The same is true of any settlement, judgment or other monies (s)he receives on your behalf.

Should you sue attorneys if they do not represent you well?

Having the need for an attorney often signals difficulty in managing life's circumstances. Whether the challenge is an ongoing dispute you want to resolve or adoption proceedings you are not sure how to navigate, you hire a lawyer because you need assistance. California lawyers and others advertise themselves as go-to resources for just such occasions, and you presumably enlist the services of the one you believe will best represent you.

What happens when that attorney falls down on the job? Maybe he or she does not communicate well or often enough; maybe the bill seems padded with expenses you do not understand. 

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