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El Segundo California Legal Malpractice Blog

When lawyers bill you for what is essentially on-the-job training

When you hire an attorney to represent you in a criminal or civil matter in California, you probably have high hopes that this person will do everything to help you due to the substantial investment typically involved. When lawyers fail to do all that you expect of them, however, it can be difficult to know where to turn. At Lange Law Corporation, we understand the frustration that you feel when your lawyer fails to live up to your expectations, and we have helped many clients after the actions of their attorneys crossed the line of legal malpractice.

According to the American Bar Association, many lawyers struggle with setting rates, and in some cases, this can cause them to “pad the bill” or otherwise charge you for work that may not directly relate to your case. Relative new attorneys, in particular, often struggle with setting rates, and while some are prone to underbilling because they may not recognize their own value, others may overbill due to naivete, or, in some cases, malicious intent.

When an attorney hurts their public image, they hurt clients

With how advanced the internet has gotten over the last couple of decades, people can look up everything they need to know about their lawyers with one click on Google. For most attorneys, it will lead you to their website or Facebook page featuring their contact information or advice that they are willing to share to future clients or the general populace. For others, you may come across an unsatisfactory piece on them from your local or statewide news.

It’s become more important than ever for lawyers to maintain their public image. Millions could see any bad social media posts they make. Anyone with a phone can catch them saying something controversial and send it to the internet within seconds. This not only puts them at risk of losing their jobs, but it can also harm the cases or reputations of their clients.

California law in effect that requires disclosure for mediation

There are many ways an attorney can breach the trust of his or her clients. With legal malpractice being a particularly complex area of law, requiring skilled and knowledgeable representation, it can be easy for a lawyer to even unintentionally commit malpractice. Regardless of intent, clients should be able to rely on their lawyers for sound counsel and ethical representation, especially in the areas of personal injury, criminal defense, family law and business litigation. A new California law went into effect after the first of the year, which addresses mediation agreements and can protect clients from legal malpractice, as well as assist lawyers in avoiding discipline by clarifying the correct steps.

According to the National Law Review, California lawyers are now required to have their clients read and sign a printed disclosure on mediation confidentiality restrictions before clients agree to mediate a legal case. Attorneys must give clients a reasonable amount of time to read and agree to the disclosure and must ensure clients understand and sign the acknowledgement before proceeding with mediation.

Dementia a growing problem among attorneys

When you hire an attorney to represent you in California, chances are, you do so with the utmost confidence that the person you are investing in will perform to your expectations and advocate on your behalf. Regrettably, however, this is not always the case, and dementia is becoming an increasingly widespread issue affecting today’s lawyers. At the Lange Law Corporation, we understand that dementia can affect an attorney’s ability to do his or her job, and we have helped many people who were unhappy with their legal representation due to this and similar issues pursue appropriate recourse.

According to Yahoo Finance, some lawyers who suffer from dementia, Alzheimer’s disease and other conditions that can impact memory and brain activity are hesitant to share their condition with others. This may be due, at least in part, to the fact that, unlike, say alcoholism and other issues that plague some attorneys, there is little hope for improvement among those suffering from dementia and related conditions.

What types of things does legal malpractice insurance cover?

Before deciding to sue your California attorney for malpractice, you would do well to determine if (s)he carries malpractice insurance, also called professional liability insurance or errors and omissions insurance. Why? Because if (s)he does not, you could wind up with a jury award that you cannot collect. Few attorneys have the personal assets sufficient to personally pay a major judgment or award to someone who successfully sues them.

As explained by 12InsuranceAgency, most attorney malpractice insurance policies cover only the negligent errors and omissions committed by the attorney himself or herself and/or anyone else in the law firm, including non-attorney support personnel. They generally do not cover deliberate acts.

What is standard of proof causation in a legal malpractice case?

When you partner with an attorney, you trust that he or she will represent your case to the best of his or her ability. You may believe that the attorney you hire has full knowledge of the laws and rules of the area of law in which you are dealing. There may be a situation, however, where your attorney fails to meet these expectations. As a result, you may get a ruling that you feel you would not have otherwise happened if your attorney had performed their job. If this is the case, you must have standard proof of causation that your attorney failed in some manner.

In a legal malpractice case, you must prove to the jury that your case may have turned out differently had your attorney not made a mistake or error when dealing with the circumstances surrounding the incident. Generally, you must show one of the following:

  •          The attorney had a duty to meet a standard of care when representing your case
  •          The attorney did not meet up to his or her part of that contractual agreement
  •          This failure caused an unfavorable outcome in the case

What are the 4 elements of attorney-client privilege?

One of the expectations you have when you hire a California attorney is that (s)he will maintain the confidentiality of whatever you tell him or her. This is known as the attorney-client privilege and means that, by law and through the Rules of Professional Responsibility, your attorney cannot and must not reveal confidential information you have given to him or her to third parties without your consent.

Should your attorney fail to maintain the confidentiality of your verbal and written communications to him or her, you can sue for malpractice. However, as Southern Methodist University explains, in order to prevail in your malpractice lawsuit, you will have to prove the following four elements

  1. That the information your attorney revealed actually was a communication from you to him or her
  2. That at the time you gave him or her the information, you had actually hired him or her as your attorney
  3. That you gave him or her this information in confidence
  4. That you gave him or her this information for the purpose of seeking and/or obtaining his or her legal assistance

How legal and ethical standards affect a case

When you hire an attorney to represent your case, you trust that they will carry out their duties with a sense of legal, ethical and moral authority. You may assume that the attorney will perform to their best ability to present the facts of your case and shed a good light on your situation. As a rule, attorneys in California are required to follow a set of legal standards as set by The State Bar of California’s Rules of Professional Conduct. Legal standards are documented as professional laws and statutes and may be enforced by certain penalties if one should disobey them.  Designed to create standardization across legal settings, the Rules of Professional Conduct give attorneys a basis for acting in a professional and legal manner.

Ethical standards, on the other hand, may not always be enforced with legal penalties. Each situation may be different depending on the circumstances and how the ethics used in the case contribute to the matter at hand. These standards are based on what is right and wrong, as well as common knowledge of how someone should act in a particular situation. For example, if attorneys use their beliefs of what is right and wrong to alter the way they represent a case, this could have an ethical implication on the outcome of the case. In some cases, a jury may rule that the ethical shortcomings of the attorney have affected the case and you may be successful in winning a legal malpractice case.

When can you sue an attorney for substance abuse?

It’s no secret that many attorneys often have to deal with high levels of stress. They have heavy workloads, busy lives and their actions can have life-changing effects on a number of their clients. Unfortunately, this stress has led numerous legal professionals down a darker path. A 2016 study by the American Bar Association and the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation shows that nearly 20 percent of attorneys have a serious drinking problem.

If an attorney tries to downplay their substance abuse problems and does nothing to remedy it for a long period, they can damage themselves as well as any client that hires them. Alcoholism and drug abuse can lead to negligent or brash behavior that could cost someone thousands of dollars in their case. However, given how much legal malpractice cases have been made about impaired attorneys over the years, you will need a lot to convince the judge that your attorney’s personal problems ruined your chances at winning the case.

What you should know before suing your lawyer

When you hire an attorney in California to represent you in a civil case, you expect him or her to do everything possible to win your case. But can you sue your attorney for malpractice if (s)he fails to live up to your expectations? That depends.

Attorneys are human and as FindLaw explains, not every mistake a lawyer makes rises to the level of malpractice. In general, your attorney commits malpractice in the following situations:

  • (S)he performs his or her job negligently.
  • (S)he breaches his or her contract with you.
  • (S)he violates the applicable rules of professional conduct.
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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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