Californians who hire a law firm for representation in a case have the right to expect professional behavior that is within the law. Legal mistakes might happen and it is important to understand when those mistakes are sufficiently severe to warrant a filing of legal malpractice. Mishandling client funds is a frequent reason for a legal filing.
It is a legal violation if the attorney has been commingling funds. This occurs if the lawyer mixes his or her money with the money in a client’s trust fund. If an advance fee is paid to cover the legal fees, it does not count as commingling. When there has been a bill from the attorney to the client and the amount owed is known, the money is the attorney’s and must be removed from the trust account.
Some attorneys and clients will have a flat fee agreement in which there is a price for the attorney’s work. This should also be removed from the trust account because the money no longer belongs to the client. With a retainer, it is not automatically the client’s money. If it is non-refundable, it does not belong to the client any longer and cannot go into the trust account.
Finally, settlement funds that belong to the attorney as the fee for their services do not belong to the client. After the settlement check has cleared and it is determined how much was owed, the attorney’s fee should no longer remain in the trust account. If there were illegal behaviors by an attorney and it caused damage to a client, it is imperative to know when there has been a violation. A lawsuit may be needed. Having advice from a law firm with experience in legal malpractice might help.