Defining legal malpractice

Hiring a lawyer can be a difficult decision when California residents do not have connections with one they trust. They may ask around, search online and read countless reviews before finally choosing an attorney they feel could best represent their needs. 

After making the decision, they still have to exercise a significant amount of trust, especially if they have never needed a lawyer before and are not used to legal processes. What happens, then, when attorneys violate the trust their clients place in them? 

Breached trust can happen in a number of ways, from simply not returning phone calls to not handling the intricacies of a case with professional attention. It is important, though, to note that one non-returned phone call or one miscommunication does not equate to legal malpractice.

In fact, the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys defines legal malpractice so the specifics are clear. It “occurs when a lawyer commits an error, omission or breach of duty to the client or the justice system that results in a negative legal outcome or monetary loss for the client or a third party.”

The ABPLA outlines the characteristics of legal malpractice as:

  • Negative results directly related to a violation of professional standards
  • Significant damage because of the negative results
  • The professional conduct violation that produced both the negative outcome and the loss

The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc, reported that “failure to know or properly apply the law” was the most frequent complaint for small to mid-size law firms while conflicts of interest cause problems for those that are larger.