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El Segundo California Legal Malpractice Blog

What is a breach of fiduciary duty?

When attorneys take on the case of a client, they pledge to act in the best interest of that client during the term of the case. It is an unspoken obligation and responsibility to the client to uphold their trust and perform in the best possible way to achieve an optimum outcome in the case. If you have hired an attorney, you should also be able to expect that your representative will act in your best interest. However, there are situations where an attorney may break this trust with a client, which may be terms for a legal malpractice case.

Fiduciary obligations are involved when an attorney/client relationship involves confidence and trust that the attorney will use his or her expertise and discretion when dealing with your case. This includes a duty of care, loyalty, confidentiality, full disclosure and acting in good faith. The attorney may fail to provide this service by acting in a way that adversely affects your situation or acts in a way that benefits his or her situation rather than your legal case. This is referred to as breach of fiduciary duty.

Case within a case: What you should know

If you believe that your attorney has mishandled your case, it is crucial that you are able to prove that he or she acted in a negligent manner. Your attorney’s negligence in acting on your case may have led to an unjust verdict, one that you believe would not have occurred had your attorney given proper representation. In such a situation, you are responsible for showing that your verdict would have turned out differently had your attorney followed the proper legal rules.

Case within a case is a term used to describe the original case in which your attorney was representing you. For example, if you were on trial for theft, but your case lacked sufficient evidence, you may have received an unjust verdict if your attorney failed to handle your case properly. The original case of theft is known as the case within the malpractice case, and it also under scrutiny when a court is looking at a legal malpractice situation.

Is emotional distress considered in a legal malpractice case?

It is natural to feel anger or stress after discovering your lawyer committed legal malpractice. They promised a fair representation, so discovering that they betrayed your agreement out of a conflict of interest or personal reasons would be upsetting.

When reviewing a legal malpractice accusation, the court will consider the financial or physical damages that occurred as a result of your former attorney’s actions. While they are willing to hear testimony that showcases the emotional damage they inflicted upon you, it is not common for it to play a large role in the settlement. However, there have been instances where it does serve as an important part in the plaintiff’s recovery, and it is crucial to understand what circumstances could lead to this decision.

What are the statutes of limitations in California?

If you have been misrepresented in a case or have been the victim of bad lawyering, you may feel like bringing a claim against the attorney who represented you. You may have even been wrongfully convicted of a crime you did not commit because of attorney negligence. When you feel as though you have been wronged, it is crucial that you bring the injustice to the attention of a legal malpractice attorney as soon as possible. In California, and in other states in the nation, there are deadlines to filing these types of claims. This is known as the statute of limitations and are dependent on the type of case you are presenting.

When you are involved in professional legal malpractice, you have one year from the discovery of the injustice and a maximum of four years from when the injustice occurred. There are, however, situations where the statute of limitations may be stretched beyond the four years. If you are dealing with a case where you must prove your innocence or are on trial for a crime, the legal malpractice case must be addressed within two years after you receive a verdict in the original case. In a case where the attorney knowingly conceals or hides information showing negligence has occurred, the case may be extended as well. The case may go beyond the four-year limitation if you have a physical or legal disability that presents restrictions to your case.

Law firm faces ethical breach

When people hire an attorney to represent them in a court-of-law, they are entitled to certain information regarding the law firm and its ability to provide service to the client. On a larger scale, corporations who use law firms to litigate cases are also entitled to information about the law firm and any information they have regarding legal conflicts they are currently going through.

This rule was recently put into legislation by the California Supreme Court after a case dealing with this topic. A large corporation sued a major law firm because the firm did not disclose critical information that it was representing a company involving a whistleblower the firm was handling. The battle went bounced from Court of Appeals to California Supreme Court, looking at whether the corporation owed money to the law firm for its services rendered, even though it had initiated an ethical breach. Representatives argued that the law firm should be entitled to some compensation for the work it did on the major legal case. However, some of the negotiated profits should be paid back to the corporation because of the ethical breach.

What is a breach of contract?

Whether you own a small business or are in the corporate office of a large company, you may deal with contracts on a regular basis. Contracts are a necessary part of business interactions, as they allow you to define a service or partnership and add specific guidelines regarding the matter. A breach of contract occurs when one of the parties involved in the agreement fails to keep their end of the bargain or does not fulfill their obligation as stated in the contract.

To understand whether a breach of contract has occurred, the judge presiding over the case will look at several factors regarding the contract and the matter at hand. These factors include the following:

  •          Was the contract legally binding?
  •          Who was involved in the contract?
  •          What were the responsibilities of each party as defined in the contract?
  •          Were there any modifications of the contract?
  •          What issue caused a party to claim a breach has occurred?

When your attorney will not respond to you

If you reside in California and have ever had cause to hire an attorney, you probably did some due diligence of your own before hiring someone to represent you. Chances are, you also had high expectations for the relationship and felt confident the person you hired would respond to your needs and questions promptly and effectively. Regrettably, however, this is not always the case. At Lange Law Corporation, we understand that you may have questions about whether your attorney’s failure to respond to you constitutes legal malpractice, and we have helped many clients with similar concerns determine whether they may have legal recourse.

Per FindLaw, you may have questions about your attorney’s competence and ability to provide you with effective representation if he or she fails to respond to you despite the many methods he or she could potentially use to do so. Nowadays, most lawyers have access to cellphones, email, snail mail and other avenues of communication, so it makes sense that you may question one who fails to get back to you within a reasonable timeframe.

What deadlines can lawyers miss?

When you hire an attorney in California, they have a duty to prepare your case as best as they can and make sure every aspect of it is properly organized. Even the simplest of mistakes can cost you dearly. Unfortunately, a common mistake among negligent lawyers that leads to numerous legal malpractice trials is the failure to meet a deadline.

While some courts do have the option to extend deadlines depending on the circumstances, there have been many instances where the client loses the case because their lawyer did not turn in documents in time or show up on the right date. As you select your legal assistance for your upcoming case, it is important to be aware of what deadlines could ruin your case if your attorney misses it.

ABA ethics committee says, "Disclose errors"

You hire a California lawyer. You believe the best about his or her representation of you, and you trust him or her. What happens when your trusted attorney makes a mistake? It is bound to happen, after all, because lawyers are people, too; and people make mistakes. 

A 2018 ruling about attorneys' disclosure of errors has discussion going on all sides of it. The American Bar Association announced the new position, saying "a lawyer is required to inform a current client of a material error."

Does unhappiness equate to legal malpractice?

It is not always easy to know who to hire when you need a California attorney. More than anything, you want someone who has expertise in the area in which you need help. But it is not enough for him or her to be an expert. You also want the lawyer you hire to work hard as an advocate for you, and advocacy is a unique skill that goes beyond knowledge in a practice area.

What if your attorney is knowledgeable, but you do not feel like he or she is working as hard for you as you expected? Is it enough that you are unhappy about something that has happened? Can you file a legal malpractice suit just because you are not as pleased as you had hoped you would be with the lawyer's work?

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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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