Attorney Negligence: Did It Cost You Your Case?

Attorney Negligence: Did It Cost You Your Case?

Statistics show that legal malpractice claims have become more frequent for the last three decades. There are several instances where a client loses confidence in the abilities of his lawyer because the latter made matters worse instead of providing a resolution to the problem. If you suffered damages due to your lawyer’s wrongful conduct, may it be due to his negligence or intentional act, you may consider the option of bringing a legal malpractice action. However, proving a legal malpractice claim could be challenging as it often involves extensive search for appropriate arguments and corroborating evidence. Despite the existence of actual damages, there are other factors that need to be examined to determine whether a claim of legal malpractice should be filed.

Damages

If the client can prove that the attorney’s negligence or wrongful act resulted in damages, such damages could be recovered by filing a legal malpractice lawsuit. However, there are cases where damages are not easily ascertainable. In such cases, the California Supreme Court held that recovery of damages could still be awarded even if the existence and the cause of such damages are difficult to determine. On the most part, however, damages that are based on speculation or mere threat of future harm are usually not awarded by California courts.

Clients are likely to be more successful with the recovery of so-called “direct” damages. These are damages that have been the direct result of an attorney’s negligence or misconduct. For instance, in a case where an attorney wrongfully advises his client to file for bankruptcy and sell his home for a lower price than its market value, the court is likely to award the client damages to the extent of what he lost from the sale. In another case, a California court awarded damages to a physician due to the loss of his good reputation and the increase in premiums for his medical malpractice insurance due to his attorney’s negligence.

If the client can show clear and convincing evidence that the attorney can be held liable for fraud, malice or oppression, even punitive damages may be recovered, see California Civil Code § 3294. However, client-plaintiffs who have been denied the award of compensatory damages will not be entitled to punitive damages. In general, it is more difficult to prove the existence of punitive damages as courts usually require specific facts to prove that the attorney acted with oppression, fraud or malice. In one rare case, the court of appeals awarded punitive damages due to an attorney’s “conscious disregard of plaintiff’s safety”. In that case, the attorney, who was also a physician, advised his client to postpone the surgery in order to strengthen their medical malpractice lawsuit even though he knew about the urgency of a surgery.

Furthermore, if the client-plaintiff lost his claim for punitive damages in the underlying action, it is very unlikely that courts will award him punitive damages in a legal malpractice lawsuit. The California Supreme Court held that such damages are based on speculation and plaintiffs should not be entitled to damages that cannot be proven with certainty. Otherwise, lawyers would be exposed to more risks of liability, resulting in an increase in the cost of malpractice insurance.

Attorney Negligence

In a legal malpractice action based on the attorney’s negligence, the courts will look into four factors. First, the client-plaintiff needs to show that the attorney-defendant has the obligation to apply the skill, prudence and diligence required from his profession. Second, there has to be proof that the attorney failed to fulfill the above mentioned duty. Third, the client-plaintiff also needs to show that the attorney’s breach of his duty resulted in the damages he suffered. Lastly, as mentioned above, the client-plaintiff needs to present evidence of the existence of such damages and not just mere speculation. According to the California Supreme Court, client-plaintiffs who are facing criminal charges need to prove their actual innocence before they can bring an action against their attorneys. This way, the clients who have been found guilty by a criminal court would not be allowed to go after their attorneys and recover civil damages. An exception to this rule is a malpractice action that is not based on the quality of legal services provided by the attorney. For instance, a fee dispute between the client and the attorney can still be pursued in court even if the client was charged by a criminal court because such a dispute merely involves the attorney’s billing practices.

Typical Cases of Malpractice

The most common basis of malpractice action is the failure of an attorney to adhere to the deadlines set by the Code of Civil Procedure as well as other statutory filing deadlines. As mentioned above, attorneys are expected to apply the required skill, prudence and diligence in providing legal services. The failure to file a lawsuit, initiate a proceeding or bring an action within the so-called statutes of limitation could constitute a strong claim for legal malpractice.

An attorney can also be held liable if the court in the underlying case issues a default judgment against his client due to his failure to file a pleading, see California Code of Civil Procedure § 585. Furthermore, if he fails to relieve his client from the default by filing a motion in a timely manner, namely within six months after the issuance of the default judgment, the client would have another ground to file a malpractice lawsuit against him assuming that the motion could have been successful.

It is also possible to hold an attorney liable for not raising viable defenses in a legal action. In such cases, however, the client-plaintiff needs to show that the defenses that were not asserted can be proven in court and would have led to a more favorable result. In one case, for instance, a California court denied the award of damages to the plaintiff because the attorney decided to leave out weak defenses.

In general, attorneys have an obligation to adhere to their clients’ preferences particularly with regard to legal decisions involving their substantive rights. The failure to follow these instructions can be a basis for a malpractice action. In one case, for instance, a California court held an attorney liable for his failure to file a complaint despite of his client’s specific instructions to do so.

However, courts have held that an attorney can make decisions without his client’s consent if authority has been given in an agreement. Decisions involving procedural matters are also instances where attorneys can act independently. California courts have not yet drawn the line as to how to differentiate procedural matters and legal decisions. Thus, establishing a legal malpractice action based on the failure to adhere to clients’ instructions could pose several challenges. On the other hand, courts have consistently held that attorneys are not obliged to follow instructions that can result in an illegal or unethical conduct. Furthermore, an attorney can reject a case if he determines in good faith that the case lacks merit.

Another frequent basis for a legal malpractice action involves settlements. According to the California Rules of Professional Conduct, an attorney needs to provide his client specific information pertaining to the settlement such as the amount, and the terms and conditions of the offer, see California Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 3-510. To be successful with a malpractice action, a client-plaintiff needs to prove three things. First, there has to be evidence showing the attorney’s failure to inform the client about the settlement (or parts of the settlement). Second, the client-plaintiff needs to attest that he would have accepted the settlement offer if he had known about it (or had sufficient information about it). Last, evidence should be presented that the client would have benefited more from the settlement than the actual outcome of the case. The amount of damages in such a case will be determined by the difference between the actual outcome of the case and what the client-plaintiff would have received from the settlement offer.

Statutes of Limitation

In general, clients can file a legal malpractice lawsuit one year after the discovery of circumstances that support the malpractice claim or four years after the attorney’s act of misconduct, whichever comes first, see California Code Civil Procedure § 340.6(a). There are, however, exceptions to this general rule that could prolong the periods of limitation, giving plaintiffs more time to file a lawsuit. For instance, periods where the plaintiff is physically unable to bring a legal malpractice action against his attorney will be considered as tolled. The same applies to cases where the attorney-defendant is still representing the client-plaintiff in the same case where the attorney’s misconduct is at issue. In such cases, the time limit for bringing a legal malpractice action could be exceeded.

Seeking Legal Advice

The success of a legal malpractice lawsuit will mainly depend on the evidence and arguments which will support the claim that the attorney has been negligent in representing his client. Even procedural matters such as determining the applicable deadline could pose some challenges as well. Thus, in cases that involve complex issues, consulting a lawyer who is experienced in legal malpractice cases is inevitable in order to prevent the occurrence of further damages to the client.

Sources:
California Code of Civil Procedure
California Rules of Professional Conduct

For further reading:
George Lindahl J.D., California Torts, 2012
Suzan Herskowitz Singer, Attorney Responsibilities & Client Rights, 2003
Robert W. Schachner Esq., How & When to Sue Your Lawyer, What You Need to Know, 2005

Are Attorneys Above The Law

If you have ever been in the regrettable situation where you need the assistance of a good attorney, then you know how much of a blessing they can be. It is possible that your marriage is falling to pieces, and you have children that your visitation rights you need resolved; or maybe you have been injured in an accident, and need to make assistance making a claim against the party that is at fault. No matter what your need, the right attorney can help make the entire procedure much easier.

Nevertheless, regardless of all the good work many attorneys do, there are a large number of attorneys who operate on the other side of the fence. These are the ones who will rip their clients off, ignore and break the law themselves in order to enrich their own lives.

These same attorneys will use suspicious moral practices to get questionable results, all of which directly affects you.
“Quis Custodes Ipsos Custodiet”, by the poet Juvenal, which means “Who Shall Watch The Watchers Themselves”, is an old Latin saying that sums up this situation perfectly – It is extremely apt in these situations, for if we cannot trust our protectors to actually protect us, what can we do? Who punishes the attorneys when they break the law?

Terrifying Statistics

Even though you may believe that attorneys who break the law are in the minority, the number of incidents that have been brought to the public’s notice is on the rise. Some of the most recent examples of this are:

o In 2001, a total of ELEVEN attorneys in Tennessee were still practicing law, even though there was a list of charges against them which included bank fraud, perjury, and even one attorney who was to blame for his failure to deliver evidence, which caused an innocent man to be kept in prison for four years on a rape charge.

o This year in Warren, Ohio an attorney was charged with fraud, including deceiving an elderly woman out of over $80,000

o Also this year, two attorneys in Boise, Idaho, were convicted of shocking financial dealings relating to real estate purchases at University Place

Yet, in spite of these findings, and the guilty parties acknowledging their criminal behavior, they are still permitted to work and practice law. Why is this, and what can you do about it if it affects you?

The Censure Debacle

While a child is growing up, and if they do something wrong, we as parents would punish them – this is how we have all learned right from wrong. The same in goes in our adult life – we all know that if we break the law, we will get punished. Depending on what it is we have done wrong or accused of, the punishment can vary – from an official warning for something minor, to losing your driving license for a road traffic offense, to spending time in jail embezzlement or something even more serious. There are even times when someone has spent time incarcerated when actually innocent.

However, the same set of laws do not seem to apply to attorneys. When they do something unlawful, as a rule, it does not look as if it affects their job too much, because they are still permitted to practice law. Still yet, if they are punished in a more serious manner, you can bet your bottom dollar it will not be anywhere near as severe as how we would be dealt with for the same crime.

The rationale for this is something attorneys love to fall back on, and that something is censure, a convenient scheme of publicly scolding someone without really doing anything official. Sure, when you hear that an attorney has been “publicly censured”, it might look and sound good on paper, but in fact it is anything but. The only thing that happens is that a public official, or if someone of prominence does receive a warning, it is like being a slapped on the wrist, and told not to be naughty again. Not exactly inductive to making someone alter his or her ways. However, it is not just this that is at fault here.

The Old School Tie Network

When any kind of law is broken, if it goes to court then it is normally attorneys who will work to see that the correct type of penalty is laid down out by the judges. However, if it is an attorney who is on trial (although this in itself can be hard to achieve, thanks to the censure procedure), then you can just about ensure that an old friend or colleague from law school will take their case.

As if that is not bad enough, you will find that the attorney is probably a friend of the judge that is hearing the case, which does not provoke confidence that the case is going to be heard fairly or with impunity. It is this kind of “all for one, one for all” attitude that has seen public faith in attorneys lapse to an unprecedented low, which is a particular embarrassment for the good attorneys that do their job well and look out for the people that matter – their clients.

If you have been a victim of malpractice by an attorney, there are ways that you can bring them to justice, and not just leave them to go the normal route of censure and favors from friends getting them off the hook.

Taking The Law Into Your Hands

One avenue that you can take to see the offending attorney brought to justice is by way of the state governing boards that are supposed to be responsible for attorneys being able to operate in a particular state or county. Unfortunately, this can be a tremendously costly and is usually a very long-drawn out process, which is not always successful, because the attorney can appeal it and generally the accuser is unaware and unable to speak out against them again. While the appeal is going on, they are allowed to continue to practice law…ergo the attorney gets away with it.

Another way you might consider is to use another attorney, which may sound bizarre as you are bringing a case against another attorney. However, just like any job and vocation, there are some exceptional attorneys who would like nothing better than to successfully charge and prosecute someone who is blighting their business and good name in such a negative manner.

If you are unsure of where you should start, there is usually a lawyer referral service in your town or you can go online and do a search with Google, Yahoo or MSN where you will find lists of firms in your city that would be more than willing to take this type of case on.

Another option is to go to the local and national press. People hate to think of those intended to protect our rights as operating in an criminal manner, and they like it even less when it is an attorney who is using the law to further enrich their own way of life. For that reason, you should take all your facts and dates to the press, who would love to chase these lawbreaking attorneys down for you.

No matter what you decide to do, please do not just sit and hope that the attorney will be found out without your help – that is why there are so many bad ones on the loose in the first place.

Effective Tips For Choosing A Right Bankruptcy Attorney

Nowadays we hear lots of people losing their jobs as unemployment is increasing a lot. We can never say that we will not face the situation as the unexpected happens. We should be ready with the solutions for the life’s most unexpected and complex financial problems.

In case if you are unable to come out of your financial problems, then you can consider bankruptcy filing. But, you should be aware of how to choose an attorney. Choosing an experienced bankruptcy lawyer will make a big difference to your financial situation. Consult the attorney before making a decision as it will impact your financial situation. Search the internet and come to a decision by reviewing all the recommended lists of your state’s bankruptcy lawyers.

Bankruptcy laws exist to give a solution to the person who is overburdened with debt and want to start freshly. These laws change frequently, in order to get most out of these constantly changing laws, a debtor needs a smart and experienced lawyer who deals entirely with bankruptcy. If you are in financial hardship and have a need of attorney, below are few things to take into account while choosing.

Gather a list of bankruptcy attorneys: Call the local bar association, talk with your friends and neighbors who have already taken the help of bankruptcy attorneys for reference, browse the internet to find attorneys in your area. After collecting a list of bankruptcy attorneys, depending on what type of attorney you need – consumer, commercial, business or personal, choose the best bankruptcy attorney. Call the attorneys personally and talk to them, this will help you to narrow down your choices and helps you in choosing the best attorney.

Consult the attorneys personally: Bankruptcy attorneys provide free consultation for first time, if the attorney charges the fee move on to the next attorney in the list, speak with attorney personally and find out how much experience he has and number of cases they have handled successfully. The bankruptcy attorneys should be able to provide detailed information about the bankruptcy from the scratch. If they don’t provide the information confidently for the questions you ask and look unclear, move on to the next attorney.

Find out the amount you have to pay: Ask the attorney about the amount you have to pay fully from beginning to end. Depending on where you live and the type of debt you are in, the bankruptcy attorney will charge you $1,000 to $3,500. While choosing the bankruptcy attorney don’t always choose the cheapest one. Find out which attorney is more qualified and who has good experience. Some bankruptcy attorneys will ask you to pay the fee fully in advance before filing the case. Talk to the attorneys in advance and come to a conclusion.

Options with the attorneys: Discuss all your options with the attorneys, make sure that the attorney you choose is ready to work for you, there are several attorneys who file your case without having interest to take up the case for quick fee. You can find out easily whether the attorney you chose is really interested to take up the case by interviewing the attorney.

Ratings and reviews: Check out the ratings and reviews about the attorney from your friends and internet.

Surely all the above steps will help you to find out good bankruptcy attorney; as a result you will hopefully get out of your debts.