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El Segundo California Legal Malpractice Blog

What is conflict of interest?

There are many ways an attorney may be liable for legal malpractice in California. One that you may have heard of is when there is a conflict of interest. According to The Balance, a conflict of interest is when your attorney has competing interests in your case. It can help to look at some examples.

If you are getting a divorce and your attorney represents you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse, there is a conflict. Your attorney cannot properly represent either of you because he or she is representing the other person, too. The attorney has something to gain in both cases. A clearer example might be if your attorney is part owner in a company you are suing for product liability. Here, it is obvious how your attorney would be conflicted. If he or she works hard to win the case for you, he or she will lose out in the company. 

What happens if you are not happy with your lawyer?

When you hire a legal professional in California, you expect he or she will do a good job and fight for you to the best of his or her ability. However, there are times when an attorney fails to do his or her job. What can you do when you are not happy with the work your legal representative is doing? The American Bar Association offers some suggestions to help you know if you are looking at a legal malpractice issue or if it is something less serious.

If you are in a situation where you are unhappy with your lawyer because the case did not turn out the way you wanted, then it most likely is not a malpractice issue. Sometimes, you lose. That is life. If you were content with your legal representation up to the end, then the chances are pretty good that you are just upset about the outcome and not the actual work your attorney did. Another example is if you have a personality clash with your attorney or you do not see eye-to-eye on how to proceed. In cases like this, it is probably best to look for a new attorney.

What extends the statute of limitations for legal malpractice?

Generally speaking, any legal malpractice claims you intend to file in California must be made within one to four years of the act your attorney allegedly committed to cause you harm. The exact limit depends on the details of the case. The year-long countdown usually begins at the time that you, the plaintiff, discover the omission or wrongful act in question. You typically have four years to discover the error. This is a relatively firm limit, but there are several situations delineated in the statute of limitations that can extend this period.

As described in the California Code of Civil Procedure, there are certain conditions that extend the maximum time you have to commence action on a legal malpractice case, including the following:

  • You have not been injured
  • You are unable to begin your case due to a legal or physical disability
  • Your attorney knows he or she has done something wrong, but withholds that information from you
  • You are currently involved in the case your malpractice claim concerns and represented by the defendant attorney

What are the potential resolutions of legal malpractice disputes?

Lawyers are, by definition, the defendants in disputes over legal mistakes in California, but insurance companies also bear part of the risk in these situations. While the defendant attorney in your case might handle the negotiation and litigation personally, his or her insurance provider could also take an investigative, representative or support role for the defense. This involvement of a third party increases the variety of potential outcomes for your legal malpractice claim.

According to a study published in the Duke Law School Public Law & Legal Theory Series, your claim might resolve in one of the following ways:

  • Settlement during your court proceedings
  • Court decision to award damages to you
  • Successful motion to dismiss executed by the defense
  • Settlement before your suit due to favorable insurance investigation findings
  • Abandonment of your claim due to insurance investigation findings unfavorable to your case

Mistakes lawyers make

No one imagines that attorneys are incapable of error. For this reason, there is a process for claiming professional malpractice when their performance dips below an expected standard.

In our experience, most lawyers try to follow professional guidelines in their work. But besides being a profession, the law is a business, and lawyers are human and lose sight of ethical considerations. Lawyers can be incompetent. They can also be predatory against their own clients. The range of malpractice is extensive.

Professional standards lawyers must meet

One of the reasons why a lawyer in California may face a malpractice suit is failing to meet professional standards. All attorneys should be aware of the standard of service they need to provide. They need to make sure they are providing the level of service clients expect.

According to the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys, it is expected under the law that attorneys meet specific professional standard of conduct. This means adhering to ethical rules, following the law and providing a high level of service to clients. While each state bar association makes its own rules, there are some general guidelines that provide a good overview of what an attorney should be doing to ensure he or she is not facing malpractice over professional conduct.

Understanding legal conflicts of interest

When you hire an attorney in California, you probably feel confident that he or she will prioritize your needs, and yours alone. Regrettably, however, this is not always the case, as many legal malpractice cases arise from attorneys who take on clients despite having existing conflicts of interest. At the Lange Law Corporation, we have a firm understanding of what constitutes a legal conflict of interest, and we have assisted many clients who hired lawyers and later found out they were breaking ethical boundaries.

Per Law Street Media, a conflict of interest is what happens when an attorney agrees to represent you, despite having competing or conflicting goals for some reason or another. For example, an attorney cannot represent you in a lawsuit against a company if he or she holds stock in that company. Similarly, an attorney may not represent you in a personal injury case against a store, if his or her wife owns or works in that store.

Did your attorney ask you for informed written consent?

You expect your California attorney to represent your interests when you hire him or her. According to The State Bar of California, your attorney is bound to rules of professional conduct that dictate when he or she must inform you of potentially conflicting interests.

There are certain types of relationships between your attorney and another person or witness in your case that must be explained to you, including the following:

  • Personal
  • Professional
  • Legal
  • Business
  • Financial

Common factors in legal malpractice suits

Hiring a California attorney often involves a sizable investment, and you want to feel confident that the person you are paying to represent your interests is experienced, thorough and otherwise fully capable of doing so. Regrettably, however, some attorneys are prone to errors, and when those errors arise because of negligence or ill intent, they may constitute professional malpractice. At the Lange Law Corporation, we have a firm understanding of what constitutes legal malpractice, and we have helped numerous clients seek recourse after suffering hardship because of attorney errors.

Per the American Bar Association, many legal malpractice cases involve similar errors. For example, you may want to hold your attorney accountable if he or she misses important legal deadlines, and your case suffers as a result. Maybe your attorney failed to file necessary paperwork before the deadline, or maybe he or she inaccurately listed dates on a calendar and this led to the oversight. Regardless of the cause, if your attorney fails to meet critical deadlines, you may have grounds for a professional malpractice suit.

Knowing if your attorney improperly withdrew

When you hire an attorney in California, you are putting your trust in the hands of a professional who you believe will fight for your rights and represent you in the best light possible. While this is true in most cases, there are some incidents when an attorney fails to do his or her duty and leaves you, the client, to deal with the negative consequences. This could mean fines, fees or even jail time. We at Lange Law Corporation work hard to ensure that you receive compensation for any wrongs that were done to you, especially if your attorney failed to properly withdraw.

It can be difficult to know what qualifies as improper withdrawal. According to the Cornell University Legal Information Institute, your attorney must give proper notice of withdrawal from employment if he or she feels incapable of handling the matter involved in the case. If he or she ceased employment from you, but did not notify you of the decision, this may be considered improper withdrawal.

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

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