As with doctors, financial advisors, insurance agents and other licensed professionals with specialized knowledge, attorneys must follow a basic standard of diligent care and ethical behavior toward clients. California’s Rules of Professional Conduct outline these expectations in detail.
When a lawyer’s negligence leads to the failure of a viable lawsuit and causes significant financial damage, that negligence may rise to the level of legal malpractice. Clients whose counsel has demonstrated professional incompetence or lack of attentiveness that leads to adverse legal outcomes may be able to recoup losses by filing a malpractice claim. Here are three of the most common mistakes that attorneys make when handling cases.
- Failure to perform legal services with competence
All too often attorneys attempt to take on cases outside their area of expertise. This may easily lead to poor advice and badly handled suits. Rule 1.1 of the California State Bar’s professional conduct rules make it clear that lawyers should not attempt to perform legal services outside their own specialty unless they:
- Professionally consult another attorney reasonably believed to be competent in the area
- Refer the case to another attorney assumed to be reasonably competent in the area
- Acquire sufficient knowledge and skill before taking on the case
- Failure to meet managerial and supervisory responsibilities
Larger law firms often employ associate lawyers and other support staff to help handle cases. However, a supervisory or managerial lawyer with authority within the firm must make reasonable efforts to ensure that subordinate attorneys and staff follow the rules of the California State Bar Act. This may include establishing internal procedures and policies that detect potential conflicts of interest, identify dates for time-sensitive actions and account for each client’s funds and property holdings.
- Failure to communicate with clients
Failure to communicate clearly and consistently is one of the most common reasons that legal clients find fault with their attorneys. Lawyers must be prompt when consulting clients about how to accomplish legal goals, informing them about significant case developments, providing them information and copies of relevant documents, and advising them on potential limitations of representation.