You do have options if your attorney messes up your case. Generally, your possibilities depend on the type of mistake and how much it affected your case. For minor mistakes, you can fire your attorney and get a second opinion. You can also report them for failing to meet their duties of professional conduct. For the most serious of cases, you can sue your former attorney for legal malpractice.
What is Legal Malpractice?
Legal malpractice is when an attorney makes a grievous error in handling a case. Lawyers are held to a general standard and codes of ethical and professional conduct. Depending on the severity, when they break these rules they may be guilty of medical malpractice. To prove this, there would more than likely need to be evidence of either negligence or an intent to harm and cause damages to you as a client.
It is important to remember that there is a difference between a mistake and legal malpractice. Lawyers are not perfect. They can and do make mistakes. However, there is a serious issue when that mistake is so severe that it hinders you from filing or possibly winning your case. Legal malpractice cases can be lengthy and expensive. It is advised to make the claims quickly if you feel like you have been wronged.
Types of Mistakes Made by Attorneys
There can be severe legal consequences if your attorney makes a mistake in our case. Some common errors include:
- Missing a statute of limitations: This is a time limit that you have to comply with when filing a lawsuit. For example, many car accident lawsuits have a statute of limitations of 2-3 years. Your lawyer should know what the time limit is for your case. If they miss this deadline you may be without a legal remedy to your claim.
- Incompetence: You expect your lawyer to have a basic knowledge of the law and of your case. They are more likely to make a mistake if they are specialists in a certain type of law and have no experience in the legal rules associated with your case. They must have some competence in the core of your case. If they do not and they still take the case, they are making an error and opening themselves up to legal malpractice claims.
- They break their fiduciary duty to a client: A lawyer’s main job is to protect and advocate for their client. This means that they have to act in the best interests of the client and they cannot act in their own best interest. Instances of attorney’s breaking this duty include taking a case where there is a conflict of interest, ignoring a client’s wishes, or breaking attorney-client privilege.
- Other types of negligence: Types of these actions include making a serious error during a trial, failing to investigate facts properly, hiring improper expert witnesses, showing up to work drunk or on other substances, or collecting fees but then neglecting the client.
What can you do if your Attorney Messed up your Case?
You can file a lawsuit against your former attorney if you think the mistake they made was legal malpractice. To do this, you would need to prove negligence on their part. This usually involves four parts, all of which need supporting evidence:
Was your attorney negligent?
To show this, you need to show that a reasonable attorney in the same situation would have made a different decision. Remember, not all mistakes are legal malpractice. You need to show that this mistake was such an error that the attorney breached their duty to you to provide proficient legal care.
Did their mistake cause any damage?
If there is no harm to you, then there is no legal malpractice claim. For instance, there is no damage if an attorney made a mistake in filing a document but the judge did not add any penalties because of it.
How severe were the damages?
There is more than likely only minor damage if your attorney caused a delay of the case or trial by a few days. However, you have a stronger case if the attorney missed a statute of limitations and barred you from suing someone who caused you harm.
Did the damages ruin your case?
For this, you would need to show the court that you had a viable case that would have won with a legal certainty if your attorney had not made a mistake. This means that if you did not have a strong case to begin with, you would be unlikely to win a legal malpractice case.
There are other options if you don’t want to sue your former attorney for a mistake they made. You can report them to the state bar or the American Bar Association. They will conduct an investigation if the mistake is serious enough and the lawyer could face being disbarred or other disciplinary actions.