Similar to medical malpractice, legal negligence occurs when an attorney does not do what he or she is supposed to do and his mistake harms his client.
Attorneys have a duty to follow certain standards of ethical and professional conduct. When they don’t follow those standards, they can be sued for legal negligence.
However, it is not as simple as saying, “My attorney did not work hard enough to win my case.” You must be able to show that your lawyer did not do what he was supposed to do according to the rules of his profession.
Despite judicial criticism, justice has often proven elusive when disbarred lawyers have no assets or hide any they do have, leaving clients high and dry.
The Missouri Reciprocity Agreement allows admission without an exam if the applicant has had 5-10 years of practice in a jurisdiction. A disbarred attorney registering for the Bar exam to seek reinstatement pursuant to rule can contact the Missouri Bar Examiners using the contact information found on their website.
Can I sue my lawyer for negligence?
If you can show that your attorney did one of the following, you may be able to file a legal negligence claim against your attorney:
- The lawyer’s conduct was negligent
- The lawyer breached a contract
- The attorney’s actions violated the Rules of Professional Conduct
If your attorney has violated these rules (such as mixing financial accounts or creating a conflict of interest) or was negligent in any way, you can file a lawsuit for legal negligence.
To win your case, you would have to show that a typical (and competent) attorney would have prevailed in your case.
If you file a lawsuit for legal negligence based on the negligence of your attorney, you must show:
- Your attorney had a duty to represent you competently
- Your attorney made a mistake or acted in a way that violated his or her duty to you
- Your actions caused you harm and you lost money as a result
Proof of legal negligence
Proving legal negligence is not an easy task. In addition to testing the items discussed above, you must show clear causality.
In other words, it should be clear to the court that you would have prevailed in your case if the attorney had followed the Rules of Professional Conduct.
You should also be aware that facts that may suggest violations of ethics or professional responsibility are not necessarily actionable.
For example, two attorneys who are good friends can end up on opposite sides of the same case. That is not necessarily a conflict of interest, as long as it is not a family relationship, but it could be in some circumstances.
And while your attorney is required to communicate with you reasonably, not returning all of your phone calls is not necessarily negligent.
How to sue your lawyer for negligence?
While malpractice cases can be complex, in some cases filing a negligence claim against an attorney who demonstrated negligence in your case may be your only recourse.
Legal negligence can be obvious, like a missed deadline or a statute of limitations.
Other times, the issue may fall into the “gray” area regarding whether legal negligence occurred and whether it had a significant impact on the outcome of your case.
If you believe that your attorney’s negligence has harmed you financially, you need an attorney on your side who is experienced in litigating malpractice cases.
Legal malpractice: two cases in one
Legal negligence cases are two cases in one. You must show that your attorney exhibited negligence while handling your case, and if that negligence had not occurred, you would have received a more favorable outcome, settlement, or judgment than you received.
Substantial levels of re-litigation are often needed from the original case to be successful in a malpractice case.
Even when the attorney in your original case made a serious mistake, a jury may feel that you would have lost the case no matter what.
Many legal malpractice cases arise from a situation where the attorney recovered some money for his client, but the client believes he would have received more had it not been for the attorney’s negligence.
Steps to take to sue your attorney for negligence
There are several steps you should take if you think you have a good malpractice case, including:
- Get your case file from your original attorney
- Gather all documentation related to the original case
- Contact a legal malpractice attorney
- Schedule a consultation with the legal malpractice attorney of your choice
- Follow the advice of your legal malpractice attorney at all times
Elements of a legal negligence case
To prove legal negligence, your new attorney must show four elements of the case. The first is that your original attorney owed you a duty of care to act correctly in your case.
Usually there is a contract or agreement between a client and an attorney that affirms this duty of care. Second, it must be shown that your original attorney violated this duty of care.
The attorney may not have done what they agreed to do, was negligent, or made a mistake that another attorney in a similar situation would not have made.
Third, the lawyer’s conduct must have caused you harm and, finally, you must have suffered financial losses as a result of the actions (or inaction) of your lawyer.
An example of legal negligence
As an example, let’s say you slipped and fell in a restaurant because the floor was wet. Several people had complained about the wet floor, but restaurant management was unable to clean up the mess.
He seriously injured his back in the fall and hired a personal injury attorney to sue the restaurant.
His attorney missed crucial deadlines, prompting the judge to dismiss the case and prohibit him from re-presenting it.
You can prove that your attorney owed you a duty of care with the representation agreement you signed. You can prove that your attorney negligently failed to present your case in a timely manner.
With witness statements and a medical expert, you can prove that the wet floor caused you a significant loss.
You can finally prove that your attorney’s misconduct harmed you financially, as you were unable to get a restaurant settlement back.
Before suing, look for other alternatives
You should consider other alternatives before suing your attorney. This is because winning a malpractice lawsuit from an attorney is very difficult and expensive.
Some of the options you may want to consider before suing your attorney include:
- Report the attorney to the state disciplinary board
- Get a new lawyer if your injury is not serious