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.”

The ABA defined material error so you would see no ambiguity in it: “an error that a disinterested lawyer would conclude is reasonably likely to harm or prejudice the client or an error that is of such nature that it would reasonably cause a client to consider terminating the representation.” 

You may wonder what all the talk is about since the above definition seems clear and inarguable, but some have responded to the new ruling with questions about which clients attorneys have to inform. The ABA says there are valid reasons lawyers should discuss errors with former clients.

Those reasons include times when mistakes could prove costly for their former customers. If you are a former client, and telling you about the mistakes could prevent whatever damage seems inevitable, the ABA suggests your attorney does so. The opinion also stated, though, that lawyers can make those decisions on a case-by-case basis.

For current clients, the ABA opinion does not leave the discussion open for debate. Attorneys must disclose material errors to you if you are a current customer. 

Note this information only intends to educate about legal malpractice and does not offer legal advice.