A lower-than-expected settlement – is it legal malpractice?

Maybe you were in a car accident and needed legal representation, or perhaps you slipped on a greasy restaurant floor and had to call a lawyer to help with your case. Either way, you expected a professional, competent attorney to guide you through the process and help you recoup medical and other expenses. California residents can reasonably hold those expectations of a lawyer they hire, but what if he or she does not live up to expectations? 

Say you thought you would receive a much larger settlement, so the final offer disappointed you; or you called the firm first thing every Monday morning, and the assistants usually did not return your calls until the next day. Is it safe to assume you may have grounds for a legal malpractice suit when attorneys do not satisfy every demand you make of them?

FindLaw says no. In fact, it takes a lot more than a few delayed phone calls or a lower-than-expected settlement to file a malpractice claim against a firm. The law demands of its representatives that they uphold its tenets, providing you – their clients – with “competent and skillful representation.” 

If they neglect that duty, you may have the foundations of a lawsuit, but dereliction of duty is not easy to prove. FindLaw outlines the elements claimants must establish for courts to uphold a legal malpractice suit:

  • The obligation for “competent and skillful representation” must be in place.
  • A careless action or reckless mistake that “breached the duty” must have occurred.
  • Some injury or harm must be the result of that breach.
  • The client must have suffered financially as a result of the injury or harm. 

In addition, FindLaw says you would have to show that if the breach had not occurred, you would likely have won the case.

Note this information aims to inform you about legal malpractice and does not intend to offer legal advice.