While most Americans are familiar with the idea of medical malpractice, fewer are aware that negligent attorneys can actually be sued for legal malpractice. As legal professionals, attorneys have a duty of care to their clients, and they breach that duty of care and become liable for malpractice when their actions or advice causes a client financial harm.
There are many different causes of legal malpractice, but the causes tend to fall into several general categories. The American Bar Association has actually catalogued the most common types of legal malpractice based on insurance claims and malpractice lawsuits. Let’s take a look at the top 5 causes so that you can better understand when you might have a case against a negligent attorney.
Failure to Know/Apply the Law
This is the single biggest cause of legal malpractice cases in the US, accounting for 11.3% of all claims. Failure to know/apply the law occurs when a lawyer causes you damages because he or she overlooked or did not understand a law or statute that was crucial to your case. It can be difficult for anyone without a legal background to determine if their lawyer actually failed to apply the law or just made a bad tactical decision, so you’ll need to consult with another attorney who has experience with legal malpractice cases if you believe your original attorney may be liable.
A planning error occurs when a lawyer does not properly plan for all reasonable outcomes in a case and harms the client as a result. These types of errors are most common in cases involving insurance coverage or tax implications (for example, if a business owner was audited and penalized by the IRS based on a recommendation a lawyer gave them for filing their taxes, that person would most likely be able to sue their lawyer for malpractice).
It’s an attorney’s duty to investigate their client’s case and uncover all the pertinent details that they can. A client may file a legal malpractice suit if they believe that their attorney failed to uncover details pertinent to their case that a reasonable attorney could have been expected to uncover, and that this failure resulted in damages. As with failure to know/apply the law, it can be difficult for clients to determine if their lawyer did not behave reasonably during the investigation process, which is why it’s a good idea to consult with a legal malpractice lawyer.
Failure to File Documents (No Deadline)
Failure to file documents closely follows inadequate discovery as a leading cause of legal malpractice. In this situation, an attorney needed to file a document or notice (without a deadline) for a client who wants to take some legal action, but failed to do so and therefore prevented the client from carrying out the legal action that they intended. Clients can reasonably expect their lawyer to file the necessary documents as part of their duty of care, and it is a huge breach of trust (not to mention a potential cause of substantial damages) when an attorney doesn’t fulfill that duty.
Failure to Calendar
Failure to calendar simply refers to a lawyer missing an important deadline for their client because they failed to make a calendar entry for that deadline. This type of situation can sometimes make it impossible for a person to take legal action against a third party (for example, their lawyer may not submit paperwork within the statute of limitations for their personal injury case).
This is by no means a definitive list of the causes of legal malpractice. If you believe that your attorney may have been negligent in handling your case, turn to a legal malpractice lawyer to learn what you can do now.
About the Author:
Ben Murphey is a personal injury and contracts lawyer, and a partner at the law firm of Lawlor Winston White & Murphey. Mr Murphey has 10.0 Superb AVVO rating, was Reported in Verdict Search’s Top Florida Verdicts & Settlements of 2013 under the categories of Motor Vehicle, Worker Negligence, and Contracts/Legal Malpractice, named Top 1% of Car Accident Attorneys by Car Accident Lawyer, and was named a Super Lawyer by Super Lawyers in 2014. Mr. Murphey is based in South Florida but represents people and businesses across the state who have been harmed by the wrongful acts of others.