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El Segundo California Legal Malpractice Blog

Must your attorney tell you when (s)he makes a mistake?

When you encounter a legal problem and need to hire a California attorney, you expect that (s)he will have the education, knowledge, skill, competence and background to adequately advise and represent you. But human beings being what we are, sometimes an attorney makes a mistake. When your attorney makes one, does (s)he have the obligation to tell you about it?

The State Bar of California explains that the answer to that question depends on the nature and seriousness of the mistake. If no doubt exists that (s)he made the mistake and if that mistake could have negative consequences for you, such as causing you to lose your lawsuit or exposing you to possible damages, then (s)he must disclose it to you. If, on the other hand, the mistake was relatively minor and does not put you at risk of negative consequences, then (s)he may not need to tell you that (s)he made it.

Plaintiffs allege legal malpractice in transvaginal mesh suits

Lawyers in California and elsewhere have the right to make an income. They provide an invaluable service to clients, especially those who seek to defend themselves against accusations or who have been harmed by the negligent actions of others. However, clients are also protected against unprofessional or illegal treatment by unscrupulous attorneys. In some cases, legal malpractice involves law firms that have charged clients excessive or illegal fees.

The New Jersey Law Journal has reported on a recent case, in which numerous New Jersey and Texas law firms were accused of charging excessive fees in medical malpractice cases involving transvaginal mesh surgical implants. In the class action legal malpractice lawsuit, the firms have been accused of using illegal retainer agreements in more than 1,400 instances regarding the transvaginal mesh lawsuits. New Jersey law caps product liability contingency fees at a maximum of 33 1/3%, with the limits largely depending on settlement values. However, one woman alleges she was charged a 40% contingency fee for her case. Additionally, the lawsuit claims that law firms that provided no legal services for the transvaginal mesh cases were paid, some firms provided legal services without having a retainer agreement and several firms had improperly deducted fees from the gross settlement value.

Some attorneys don't tell clients when their work is done

Most legal malpractice cases stem from an attorney’s failure to communicate with their client. Even if the client isn’t completely aware of how the proceedings should go, that doesn’t excuse their lawyers from not updating them on crucial developments. With how much is at stake in these scenarios and how much clients are paying an attorney, they deserve to know about any major pending changes to the case.

Unfortunately, some lawyers go so far as to delay telling their clients that they will no longer provide services to them either due to case circumstances or personal reasons. These delays can result in several consequences that the client will have a difficult time in recovering from.

What is considered legal malpractice?

As a resident of California who is currently in the middle of a legal battle, the last thing you want is an attorney on your side who doesn't seem capable or willing to do their job. However, how can you tell if something is a genuine mistake, or if legal malpractice is involved?

FindLaw takes a look at just what makes up legal malpractice cases. Though it is defined as a situation in which a legal representative has not fulfilled their duty by providing you with adequate representation, it can actually be quite difficult to prove that this has occurred. There are four primary elements you need to prove. This includes:

  • That the lawyer owed you a duty to represent you competently
  • That careless actions, mistakes, or malicious intent led to them breaching this duty
  • That the breach caused you harm
  • That the harm resulted in financial loss

Under what circumstances may a lawyer withdraw services?

When a California lawyer agrees to represent you in a legal matter, it involves a very serious commitment. For this reason, an attorney who believes that he or she cannot complete your case competently, without conflict of interest and/or in a timely manner should not agree to take your case in the first place. Whereas you have the right to discharge your lawyer for any reason, or for no reason, whenever you choose, your lawyer must have a reason to withdraw services. 

According to the American Bar Association, sometimes the law demands that an attorney withdraw services, and he or she has no choice in the matter. Under other circumstances, withdrawal is an option that your lawyer will have to decide independently. Absent of a legitimate reason, however, your attorney must generally see the matter through or face consequences.

Are high attorney's fees legal malpractice?

The short answer to the above question is no. If you think your California attorney charged you an excessively high attorney’s fee, this is not a matter for which you can file a legal malpractice suit.

What you need to understand, and what FindLaw explains, is that an attorney charges all but contingency fees based on a number of factors, including the following:

  • How difficult your case will be
  • How much time (s)he will need to spend on your case, including time for investigation and case preparation prior to trial
  • How much education, skill and background (s)he has in your type of case
  • How much research (s)he will need to do on any facts or situations unique to your case
  • How much overhead (s)he has, such as for office rent and equipment, salaries of his or her staff, Continuing Legal Education fees, etc.

What are the statute of limitations for legal malpractice?

If you are considering filing a legal malpractice case against your attorney, it is crucial to understand the statute of limitations for filing such claims. When you hire an attorney to represent your case, you are retaining the services of an advocate who will act on your case to the best of his or her ability. This means filing the appropriate paperwork, meeting all deadlines, communicating with other officials and gathering the evidence needed to represent your case. If your attorney has failed to do so in some manner and you did not get the ruling you expected as a result of the negligent acts, you may think about filing a legal malpractice case.

There is a time period in which you can no longer file a claim against an attorney. This is the statute of limitations, and they may differ depending on the type of legal case you are working with, as well as which state you are in. In California, you have one year after you have discovered that your attorney has committed wrongful acts in your case. A case cannot be filed if it has been four years past the date when the incident occurred.

Upholding ethical standards

When you choose an attorney to represent your case, you may interview several prospects in order to find one that best fits your needs. Different attorneys appeal to certain people, whether you are interested in representation that is extremely knowledgeable and down to business or one that takes time to understand you and personalizes your case. Regardless of who you choose to act as your advocate in court, you may trust that your attorney has a passion for justice and upholding your rights.

While many attorneys have the innate desire to do good and help people who need it, there are others who may not feel as dedicated to ‘doing what is right.’ This brings about an ethical dilemma in the legal field that may lead to a wrongful charge or even an erroneous sentence in a court of law. It is considered a balancing act for attorneys to stay loyal to you as a client and to do what is right under the ethical standards they agreed to uphold when they became attorneys. An attorney’s ultimate goal should be to protect your rights and to strongly represent your case to the best of his or her ability. Attorneys have a responsibility and ethical obligations to their clients, which in some cases, may be compromised. People who feel as though their attorney is not following the ethical standards given to them in the legal field may want to speak to someone about legal malpractice.

What to do when an attorney discriminates

When you select an attorney to represent you in a case, you may meet with several lawyers to choose the one that best meets your needs. People often select a representative that they feel comfortable with and that they feel will present and/or defend them in the strongest way possible. So, what happens when a prospective attorney acts in a discriminatory manner toward you or any other client?

Attorneys who practice under the California State Bar, as well as anywhere else in the United States, must follow rules set for professional conduct. These rules set the precedence for how attorneys should act in order to offer fair and just representation to all. It is when an attorney does not follow these rules of conduct that they may run into a legal malpractice situation.

Lawyers can use their client's name for their own purposes

Trust is essential when forming a relationship with an attorney. Given the severe consequences of how some court cases can play out, having competent legal representation you can rely on even if the odds aren’t looking great can relieve some of the tension during this difficult period.

Unfortunately, some attorneys abuse their connections to the clients and may take advantage of them. Some of this abuse can include using their client’s name on a document without their consent or mismanaging personal finances. Future clients should know about this reckless behavior before agreeing to hire an attorney for their case.

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