Hiring an attorney to protect your personal or business interests can be one of the most important decisions you make. Although attorneys cannot guarantee a positive outcome, they have a professional duty to provide reasonably competent services. When attorneys fail to meet their duty—and the client suffers damages as a result—the client can file a legal malpractice lawsuit.
The Business Trial Group handles attorney negligence and malpractice cases on a contingency-fee basis. This means our clients pay no upfront, hourly fees and pay nothing until we win their case. We understand that victims of legal malpractice can be wary of the legal system – and contingency litigation ensures that our clients do not incur additional financial risk and compound their damages.
The Business Trial Group has a proven track record of success in legal malpractice cases, including numerous verdicts and settlements in excess of a million dollars. Contact us to discuss a potential legal malpractice claim during a free case review.
Common Practice Areas for Attorney Negligence
Legal malpractice occurs in both litigation and transactional matters, and across practice areas, such as personal injury, commercial litigation, land use, real estate, corporate, tax, probate and estate, and contract drafting. Some practice areas, however, attract more malpractice claims than others.
Most, although not all, attorneys in private practice carry insurance to protect them from malpractice claims. Insurer research suggests that in recent years, some practice areas have generated the largest number of claims, including business transactions, commercial real estate, trusts and estates, and cybersecurity.
A legal malpractice composite report from Duke University shows that, since the 1980s, the real estate practice area has generated the most number of claims, followed by personal injury, family law, trust and probate, collection and bankruptcy, and commercial transactions.
Common Attorney Errors
Attorney errors can occur throughout litigation, from initial filings and pretrial hearings to trial and post-trial matters, and anywhere in between. According to ABA data, the following attorney errors most frequently lead to malpractice claims:
- Substantive errors, such as failure to know or apply the law, errors in drafting contracts or other legal documents, failure to know or ascertain a deadline, and inadequate investigation or discovery of facts.
- Administrative errors, including failure to file documents or a lawsuit (such as a missed statute of limitations), clerical and mathematical errors, and errors related to task delegation.
- Intentional wrongs, i.e., fraudulent acts by the lawyer, such as misuse or theft of client resources, civil rights violations, and abuse of legal procedure.
- Client-relation errors typically involve failure to follow client instructions, failure to obtain the client’s consent or inform the client, and poor client communications about administrative procedures.
- Conflicts of interest may arise when the attorney has a personal stake in the matter, or has previously represented the opposing party.
Attorneys can be more prone to errors when they take a case that is outside their primary area(s) of expertise (e.g., a non-tax attorney giving tax advice). The growth of electronically stored information (e-discovery) also has led to more errors regarding the preservation of evidence.
Errors by an attorney’s associates and staff are not excusable; the supervising attorney is ultimately responsible for managing every aspect of the case and appropriately advising their clients. Managing client expectations throughout the case by providing clear and frequent communication is critical to avoiding client-relation errors. And when attorney mistakes are made, the lawyer should promptly come clean and make every effort to fix it before it harms the client.
Questions about a legal malpractice claim? Talk to a Business Trial Group attorney for free.
Proving an Attorney Malpractice Claim
Lawyers make mistakes. Not every mistake rises to the level of legal malpractice. To win an attorney malpractice claim, the client must satisfy the legal elements of negligence: (1) duty; (2) breach of duty; (3) causation; and (4) damages.
- Within the context of an attorney-client relationship, the attorney owes the client a fiduciary duty—the highest standard of care. As fiduciaries, attorneys must always put their clients’ interests ahead of their own.
- Attorneys breach the standard of care when they do not follow reasonable standards of conduct, or act with the skill, prudence, and diligence that other lawyers would exercise under similar circumstances.
- There must be a causal link between the attorney’s breach of duty and resulting injury to the client.
- The client must have suffered actual loss or damage. Usually, this requires showing that the client would have won the case if not for the attorney’s negligence.
Each state has different legal malpractice laws. For example, some states allow clients to recover punitive damages and attorneys’ fees, in addition to compensatory damages. Some states also have comparative negligence laws that can shift a portion of the blame to clients. We have offices in 15 states, including more than 25 offices in Florida, and handle legal malpractice cases nationwide.
Legal Malpractice Claims and Attorneys’ Fees
Legal experts agree that the continued increase in attorneys’ fees may be leading not only to more malpractice claims, but also higher claim severity. Malpractice insurer Ames & Gough notes that “the rise in claim severity” can be traced to “the continued increase in attorney’s fees.”
With lawyers routinely charging $150 – $600 per hour — and as much as $2,000 per hour or more at big law firms—it is not surprising that clients expect high-quality service, and may be quicker to escalate dissatisfaction into malpractice claims.
While it might be difficult to trust an attorney after being the victim of legal malpractice, it is important to seek qualified legal counsel when filing a malpractice lawsuit. The Business Trial Group’s contingency-fee model means that clients do not have to worry about paying high hourly fees with no guaranteed return on investment. Our legal malpractice lawyers charge no hourly fees, and no fees at all unless we win your case.