What are the most common types of legal malpractice?

When you hire a California attorney to represent you in a legal matter, you expect him or her not only to have the requisite education, training and experience to competently handle your case, but also to take your case seriously and diligently protect your rights. While no attorney can guarantee the outcome of a case, you nevertheless expect your lawyer to obtain the best possible outcome for you.

Most attorneys adhere to the high ethical standards required by the Code of Professional Responsibility. However, some commit malpractice. In such a case, you have the right to sue him or her. As FindLaw explains, malpractice claims usually fall into the following three categories

  1. Misusing client funds
  2. Failing to appear in court at the proper time
  3. Performing inadequate legal work

Misusing your funds

You should always enter into a written employment contract with any attorney you hire. This contract should set forth not only the attorney’s scope of employment, i.e., what (s)he will do for you, but also how much (s)he will charge you for doing it and when and how you should pay these legal fees. Be aware that most attorneys must maintain two separate bank accounts: an operating account and a trust account. Any fees that you pay up-front, such as a retainer, must go into the trust account. Your attorney can only transfer these fees to his or her operating account as and when (s)he actually earns them. If (s)he does so ahead of time, or if (s)he uses your funds to pay something for another client, these things constitute malpractice.

Missing a court date

If your attorney fails to show up at a scheduled court hearing, this, too, can be malpractice, but is not always so. Attorneys, like everyone else, can occasionally become double scheduled. In addition, hearings sometimes last longer than expected. In such situations, however, your attorney has the duty to use his or her best efforts to let a judge know ahead of time if (s)he will be late to or absent from court and the reason(s) therefor.

Performing inadequate legal work

Many types of lawsuits have specific time limits as to when they must be filed. Should your attorney fail to file your suit on time, resulting in your inability to file suit at all, this definitely constitutes legal malpractice. Likewise, should your attorney fail to file a document by the date on which the court ordered him or her to do so, this also can amount to malpractice if (s)he cannot show good cause as to why (s)he missed the deadline.

This is general educational information only and not intended to provide legal advice.