Distinguishing between simple errors and legal malpractice

Whether you are drafting documents, fighting criminal charges, going through a divorce or managing another type of legal process, you must rely on the knowledge and professionalism of your attorney. After all, legal matters can be both stressful and confusing. Like everyone, though, attorneys occasionally make mistakes. 

Some individuals believe that if a lawyer makes any type of error, he or she has committed legal malpractice that should be compensable. That is not the case, however. On the contrary, for a successful malpractice claim, three things typically must be true.

1. The attorney acted negligently

An attorney may not always choose the correct answer to a given problem. Generally, you cannot use the outcome of a matter to determine whether a lawyer made some type of mistake. On the contrary, you must ask whether the attorney complied with the community standard of care. If he or she did, the actions were probably not negligent.

2. The attorney’s mistake was harmful

Not all errors result in real harm. Nonetheless, for a successful legal malpractice claim, you must show that there was some type of damage from the lawyer’s mistake. This can be challenging, as many matters have a high degree of uncertainty. Said differently, damages usually cannot be speculative. Therefore, it is important to find a meaningful connection between the slip-up and provable harm.

3. The harm is substantial

Finally, it is critical to show that malpractice damages are substantial for two reasons. First, an error that caused only a little bit of harm may not be worth very much. Furthermore, because litigating a malpractice claim can be expensive, you may spend considerably more on legal fees than your potential recovery. If you think a lawyer’s negligence has caused you significant harm, though, you likely must act quickly to preserve your legal rights. 

Attorney errors have the potential to cause serious harm to clients in California. Yet, because all mistakes do not constitute legal malpractice, you must know the difference. Taking an in-depth look at the facts and circumstances of your situation is likely the first step to knowing whether you have a valid cause of action.