What Is Legal Malpractice?

What Is Legal Malpractice?

People hire attorneys because a legal problem takes up their time, money, or harms their reputation.

Furthermore, most people cannot handle these legal problems on their own.

When clients seek representation to navigate often complex legal matters, they put their trust in a lawyer for sound advice, diligent advocacy, and a resolution for their problem.

Trust and confidence in one's attorney are paramount.

When an attorney's professional responsibility falls below the legal standards of confidentiality, loyalty, fiduciary responsibilities, or competence, the result can harm the client.

If you believe that your attorney's conduct fell short of the expected standard of care, contact a legal malpractice lawyer to find out if you have a legal malpractice claim.

Legal Malpractice

Legal malpractice refers to the failure of an attorney to perform competently or ethically, resulting in harm or damages to the client.

When clients seek legal representation, they place their trust and confidence in their attorneys, relying on their knowledge and experience to handle their legal matters.

To state a claim for legal malpractice under Illinois law, a plaintiff must show:

  1. The existence of an attorney-client relationship that establishes a duty on the part of the attorney. This emphasizes the importance of establishing a formal attorney-client relationship, which creates a legal duty for the attorney to act in the client's best interests.
  2. A negligent act or omission constituting a breach of that duty. The plaintiff must demonstrate that the attorney breached their duty of care by acting negligently or omitting an action that a reasonably competent attorney would have taken in similar circumstances.
  3. Proximate cause of injury. This requires establishing a causal link between the attorney's breach of duty and the harm suffered by the plaintiff. It entails showing that the attorney's negligence directly caused or contributed to the harm or damages suffered.
  4. Actual damages. This element involves demonstrating that the plaintiff suffered quantifiable harm or damages because of the attorney's negligence. Damages can include financial losses, emotional distress, or other recognized forms of harm.

Sexton v. Smith and Warnock v. Patterson are relevant authorities in Illinois for understanding the elements of legal malpractice claims.

By understanding legal malpractice and its elements, clients can protect their rights, seek appropriate remedies, and safeguard their interests throughout legal proceedings.

Attorneys and other professionals can refer victims of legal malpractice to lawyers who regularly take legal negligence cases.

Can You Sue Your Lawyer for Malpractice?

In a legal malpractice action, the former client does not suffer a personal injury.

Instead, they suffer financial harm or lose their freedom because of the attorney's negligent act or omission.

Merely proving that the attorney breached their duty of care will not support a client's legal cause of action.

Even if the plaintiff can establish an attorney's negligence, a client cannot bring a successful claim unless the negligence directly harmed them.

A viable legal malpractice case requires actual damages. Damages can include financial losses, harm to business interests, loss of potential opportunities, emotional distress, or any other harm recognized under the law.

A legal malpractice claim asserts that, in the absence of negligence on the part of the client's attorney, the client would have recovered compensation for an injury caused by a third party.

In cases involving litigation, a viable claim exists only if the attorney's negligence led to the loss of the underlying cause of action.

If the underlying case never went to trial due to the attorney's negligence, the plaintiff must prove that but for for the attorney's negligence, they would have prevailed in the original case.

In essence, a legal malpractice plaintiff needs to litigate a case within a case to establish their claim.

Expert testimony plays a significant role in many, but not all, legal malpractice cases.

Courts in Illinois have recognized the general rule that expert testimony must establish the applicable standard of care in legal malpractice cases.

This requirement resembles the rules and exceptions in medical malpractice litigation, but Illinois courts have recognized exceptions to the expert testimony requirement.

When the common knowledge or experience of laypersons can recognize or infer negligence from the facts, or when a layperson can easily identify the attorney's obvious negligence, a plaintiff may not require expert testimony to establish the applicable standard of care.

Meeting the burden of proof in complex and challenging legal malpractice cases requires gathering evidence and demonstrating the elements of legal malpractice in Illinois.

Understanding lawyer malpractice empowers individuals and businesses to make informed decisions about their legal representation and holds attorneys accountable for their professional conduct.

Attorneys commit legal malpractice when they fail to fulfill their professional obligations.

Understanding common causes of legal malpractice can help clients and referring attorneys recognize problems with their lawyers.

The following common scenarios can give rise to legal malpractice claims.

Missed Deadlines or Statutes of Limitations

Attorneys have a duty to meet important deadlines and adhere to the applicable statute of limitations.

Failing to file documents or initiate legal actions within the prescribed timeframes can harm a client's case and lead to legal malpractice lawsuits.

An attorney may commit malpractice if they fail to file a lawsuit within the statutory deadline, resulting in the court dismissing the client's case for untimeliness and their client losing the right to seek recourse for their injuries.

Inadequate Case Preparation or Research

Attorneys must thoroughly prepare cases and conduct necessary research to provide effective representation.

Neglecting to investigate facts, gather evidence, or understand applicable laws can result in inadequate representation and harm to their client.

A lawyer who neglects to review crucial documents or fails to interview key witnesses, leading to weak evidence presentation and a detrimental outcome for the client in a trial, may have committed legal malpractice.

Conflict of Interest Issues

Attorneys must avoid conflicts of interest that compromise their ability to advocate solely for their client's best interests.

Representing multiple clients with conflicting interests or failing to disclose personal relationships that may affect representation can give rise to legal malpractice claims.

An attorney who represents both parties in a business transaction without disclosing their prior relationship with one of the clients might breach their fiduciary duty and financially harm the client.

Negligent Advice or Representation

Attorneys must provide competent legal advice and skillful representation. Providing incorrect or misleading advice, making critical errors in legal strategy, or failing to advocate adequately for the client can lead to detrimental outcomes.

For example, an attorney who provides incorrect advice regarding the tax implications of a business transaction can cause the client or the client's business substantial financial losses and potential legal repercussions.

Improper Handling of Client Funds

Attorneys entrusted with managing client funds must handle those funds with care and in accordance with ethical and legal requirements.

Mishandling or misappropriating client funds can result in financial harm and constitutes malpractice. Such professional malpractice may result in disciplinary actions from the Illinois Attorney Registration & Disciplinary Commission (ARDC).  

For example, a lawyer may not commingle client funds with their personal accounts, leading to difficulties in tracking the client's funds and potential loss of the client's money.

These examples of legal malpractice cases can manifest in real-world situations. They also demonstrate the impact on clients when their attorneys violate the rules of professional conduct.

Potential clients need to recognize the signs and consequences of legal malpractice. Attorney negligence can harm you whether you are a business owner, shareholder, fiduciary, or an individual with a denied insurance claim.

When individuals or businesses suspect legal malpractice, they must consult a legal malpractice attorney.

HHere'swhy you need a legal malpractice attorney:

  • Specific knowledge. Legal malpractice cases require a deep understanding of both legal malpractice law and the underlying area of law where you filed the original case. Attorneys who focus on professional negligence litigation possess the knowledge and experience necessary to navigate the complexities of legal malpractice claims.
  • Evaluation of legal malpractice claims. Legal malpractice attorneys can evaluate the validity and strength of a potential claim. They will review the facts, assess the attorney's conduct, and determine the viability of your legal malpractice case. Their skills enable them to identify the merits of the claim and provide informed advice on the best course of action.
  • Maximizing recovery. A legal malpractice attorney can help individuals or businesses seek maximum recovery for the harm caused by attorney negligence. Lawyer misconduct attorneys understand how to quantify the damages suffered and can pursue compensation for financial losses, emotional distress, and other harms caused by the negligent attorney's actions.

Seeking legal recourse through a legal malpractice claim offers several benefits to individuals or businesses who suffered harm due to attorney negligence:

Recover Damages

A successful legal malpractice claim can result in financial compensation to mitigate the losses and harm caused by the negligent attorney.

This compensation may cover financial damages like lost opportunities, legal costs, or other quantifiable losses resulting from the attorney's negligence.

Hold Negligent Attorneys Accountable

By pursuing a legal malpractice claim, individuals or businesses can hold negligent attorneys accountable for their actions.

Legal malpractice cases maintain the integrity of the legal profession by holding attorneys to the highest standards of competence and ethics.

Holding attorneys accountable contributes to the overall trust and confidence in the legal system.

Prevent Future Negligence

Legal malpractice claims can encourage attorneys to always act reasonably and prudently when representing clients.

By seeking legal recourse, individuals or businesses uphold high standards of legal practice and prevent future instances of attorney negligence.

A legal malpractice attorney can protect victims of attorney negligence.

These attorneys possess the know-how required to evaluate legal malpractice claims, maximize recovery, and uphold the integrity of the legal profession.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png
Legal Malpractice Lawyer, Peter M. King

When lawyer malpractice harms you or your business, we cannot overstate the importance of consulting a skilled legal malpractice lawyer near you.

A legal malpractice lawyer can provide you with the necessary guidance and support to pursue a cause of legal action for legal malpractice.

Find the right law firm for you today by contacting an attorney online during your free consultation and case evaluation.