When a person fails to perform the duties of their job and hurts you physically or financially, you may be able to sue on the grounds of professional malpractice. Malpractice occurs across many fields: medical, architectural, pharmaceutical… and, of course, there are several different forms of legal malpractice.
Like doctors, lawyers are the keepers of an incredibly specialized set of information and skills that takes years to master. When an attorney tells their client to do something, that individual assumes that the advice they are being given is based on the lawyer’s extensive professional knowledge and experience, and represents common, accepted practice.
When people work with attorneys, the stakes are often incredibly high. Often, lives may be on the line. If a lawyer fails to live up to his or her duty of care, this is a type of negligence – a type of injury – called legal malpractice. When an attorney is negligent, they can be sued.
However, you should be aware that you can’t sue an attorney just because you didn’t get the ruling you wanted. Clear negligence or a breach of fiduciary duty must be present for you to have a case.
So what does legal malpractice look like in practice? One small action (or more commonly, inaction) that has a larger effect on your case may be grounds for filing a legal malpractice claim.
Examples of Legal Malpractice
Failing to Apply or Know the Law: Even tiny nuances in the law could be game changers in a case. It is a lawyer’s duty to not only be well-versed in the law and stay current with the constant updates that change it, but also use this knowledge in a way that will serve you.
Let’s say you were charged and convicted of a crime, and your lawyer failed to recognize that the key evidence against you was collected in an unlawful manner, should have been discarded, and would have led to dropped charges. You may have the grounds to sue based on the fact that the lawyer did not know specific laws around collecting evidence, and would be eligible for compensation for the time and money you spent serving a criminal sentence.
Failure to Make Deadlines or File Paperwork: In order to properly document a case or reach an outcome in a timely manner, there are many legal documents that must be filed. This is the lawyer’s responsibility – not yours. If your lawyer did not know the deadlines for these documents, or failed to make them, it is possible that he or she may have committed legal malpractice.
Failure to Obtain Client Consent: Lawyers must consistently communicate with their clients and obtain consent for pursing legal action. If your lawyer refused to communicate or answer your phone calls, but still moved forward with the case in a manner that you did not approve of, this might be grounds to sue.
Conflict of Interest: Lawyers take on multiple clients at a time, but must be careful about the clients they choose. If there is some sort of conflicting relationship between two different clients, or a client and another person that the lawyer has a relationship with, taking on that client may be a conflict of interest. These conflicts of interest tend hurt the client more than the lawyer, and they are not allowed.
Fraud, Libel, Slander: Lawyers are bound to the law like everyone else. If a lawyer commits a crime during the course of your trial, like fraud or libel (defamatory published statements presented as fact), they should be held responsible like any other citizen.
Think you have a case of legal malpractice on your hands? Contact a Florida legal malpractice lawyer.
About the Author:
Andrew Winston is a partner at the personal injury law firm of Winston Law. For over 20 years, he has successfully represented countless people in all kinds of personal injury cases, with a particular focus on child injury, legal malpractice, and premises liability. He has been recognized for excellence in the representation of injured clients by admission to the Million Dollar Advocates Forum, is AV Preeminent Rated by the Martindale-Hubbell Law Directory, enjoys a 10.0 rating by AVVO as a Top Personal Injury Attorney, has been selected as a Florida “SuperLawyer” from 2011-2017 – an honor reserved for the top 5% of lawyers in the state – and was voted as one of the Top 100 Lawyers in Florida and to Florida Trend’s “Legal Elite.”