If you find yourself in a situation that requires an attorney, you’re already experiencing an incredibly stressful time. Whether you’ve been injured in a car accident, by a faulty medical device or any other scenario that puts you in harm’s way through no fault of your own – dealing with the mental, physical and financial consequences can permanently alter your life. That’s why finding a lawyer you can trust is essential.
But what happens when that lawyer lets you down? What happens when the professional you hired to get justice from someone turns out to be another person who wrongs you?
Is suing your lawyer even possible? How do you go about it?
What is Legal Malpractice?
Like other types of malpractice – for example, medical malpractice by your physician – legal malpractice simply means that your attorney has failed to reach the required “standard of care” expected of them by any client. What it does not mean is that your lawyer lost your case, and you are upset. It means your attorney was grossly incompetent, careless or unethical (and even then, an ethics violation is not always enough). A very stringent set of standards must be proven to qualify for legal malpractice:
- You established an attorney-client relationship.
- Your attorney somehow breached/violated their duty to you.
- You suffered damages or injuries sufficiently related to your attorney’s breach/violation (proximate cause).
Examples of legal malpractice might include failure to meet filing deadlines, to act in your best interest (e.g., not protecting your interests or complying with your wishes), disclosing conflicts of interest or following the rules of the court, causing you to lose your case based not on merit but simple procedural mistakes. Gross negligence, such as showing up drunk to court or committing fraud, are also possible examples.
Of course, in order to successfully sue your lawyer, you’ll have to find another one – specifically attorneys who have experience in this very delicate practice area.
Why Does Legal Malpractice Happen?
It wasn’t always considered acceptable to sue your lawyer, but it’s becoming more and more common in a world of big business and bigger billboards.
According to an article by the American Bar Association, some reasons why an attorney might find themselves hit with a legal malpractice claim include:
- They take on too many cases and make simple mistakes.
- They’re too inexperienced to handle a case properly.
- They don’t thoroughly evaluate the case before accepting it.
Of course, we would like to believe every instance of legal malpractice arises out of honest carelessness and not an intentional lack of ethics – such as in the downfall of flashy celebrity attorney Tom Girardi. But, lawyers are humans too and can be guilty of treacherous things at the expense of clients who trusted them.
Do I Have a Legal Malpractice Case?
In addition to meeting the standards for malpractice above, you must be able to prove “legal certainty” that you would have won your case had your attorney adequately fulfilled their duties to you. For example, suppose you lost a custody battle and can prove that your lawyer failed to present existing sufficient evidence or missed a discovery deadline. In that case, those are compelling grounds to sue.
You also must decide if the compensation at stake is worth the considerable time, effort and risk involved in bringing a lawsuit against a lawyer. If you were up for a large settlement or an outcome that would significantly improve your life, it’s likely a sensible undertaking. Less consequential factors might not be worth the headache.
And remember, legal malpractice suits have a statute of limitations – a time limit on when you can file your case – just like any other dispute. This time limit in Maryland and Washington, D.C. is three years.
Finding the Right Legal Malpractice Attorney
If you’ve decided to proceed with a legal malpractice claim, it’s understandable that you might be hesitant to hire another lawyer. However, the reality is that your chances of winning your case without experienced counsel behind you are virtually none. A seasoned legal malpractice attorney will help you determine whether you have a winnable case and know how to guide you through the process.
At Paulson & Nace, we’ve handled malpractice cases in the greater D.C. area for more than 40 years. We have a reputation for aggressive and efficient representation and a deep understanding of our opponents’ strengths and weaknesses. We will work tirelessly with you on your legal malpractice case not only to earn the compensation you deserve but your trust in the value of a competent firm. Please call us at 202-463-1999 or contact us online for a no-obligation case review.
Both an Emory School of Law graduate and MBA graduate of Goizueta Business School at Emory, Chris Nace focuses his practice on areas of medical malpractice, drug and product liability, motor vehicle accidents, wrongful death, employment discrimination and other negligence and personal injury matters.