The legal world is a complex one, and attorneys can help you navigate the tricky waters of real estate transactions, trust and estate issues, divorce proceedings, bankruptcy, personal injury claims, as well as the court system. Every day, attorneys help people handle the legal issues in their lives.
But what happens when the lawyer you turned to for help performs their work negligently and causes you financial or other losses? What if he or she missed an important filing deadline or didn’t attend a critical hearing, and your case was dismissed as a result? Do you have any recourse? Who fights to try to hold attorneys accountable?
The legal malpractice lawyers at the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin understand the frustration and mistrust that victims of legal malpractice may experience. We, too, are concerned when attorneys fail to meet the applicable standards of professional performance, and we will fight to earn your confidence and try to help right the wrongs you may have suffered. We try to protect our clients from attorney negligence – even when it results in suing a lawyer for legal malpractice.
If an attorney was negligent and this negligence caused you harm, you can seek the counsel of a legal malpractice attorney. We work with lawyers every day, and we respect the law. Attorneys have certain professional standards they should meet. Call us at 1-866-900-7078 for a free case evaluation, and let us help you.
What Is Legal Malpractice?
Legal malpractice occurs when attorneys fail in their duty to provide competent representation to their clients – both inside and outside of the courtroom – but there are nuances. Your lawyer is supposed to use the same care, skill, and diligence possessed by other lawyers in the community under similar circumstances.
For example, if your attorney missed a statute of limitations, and this oversight resulted in serious financial damages for you, you may have a legal malpractice claim. Or if your lawyer made errors in a preparing a deed or mortgage which left your significant financial interests unprotected, you may be able to pursue a legal malpractice claim.
But failing to win a case or negotiating a settlement that is less than what you wanted does not automatically mean that your lawyer was negligent. Legal outcomes are dependent on many different factors, and you should speak to an experienced legal malpractice attorney to determine if your lawyer was negligent and if that negligence caused you actionable harm. Contact the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin today for a free case evaluation.
The Top Six Areas of Law for Legal Malpractice Claims
Sometimes, attorneys have to represent their clients’ interests in court. A trial can mean dealing with investigations, pleadings, potential settlements, appeals, and more. While not all claims end up being litigated in the courtroom, attorneys should not initiate claims that they cannot see through. A litigating attorney should be up-to-date on the many rules, both substantive and procedural, that may affect your case.
Lawyers Mutual reports that litigation errors, such as failing to know the correct statute of limitations, and failing to maintain a comprehensive calendaring and docket control system, produce the largest number of its reported malpractice claims.
Personal Injury and Property Damage
Law practices involving personal injury and property damage have a high number of malpractice lawsuits against their attorneys. These cases often center on missed filing deadlines and failure to interview witnesses or secure important evidence.
Bankruptcy law also sees a relatively high numbers of legal malpractice suits. When a company files for bankruptcy under Chapter 11 of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code, it is usually attempting to reorganize its structure so that it can continue to operate as a business and possibly, with court approval, borrow new money. If a bankruptcy attorney provides inaccurate advice on the tax consequences of filing or on whether or not to pay your creditors, or fails to list all creditors, these errors can have long-term negative financial consequences. Even if your attorney had the best of intentions, exposing you to large liability that could have, and likely would have, been avoided by another attorney may be malpractice.
Real estate law has seen a rising number of professional liability lawsuits against lawyers, as well. Attorneys have a fiduciary and professional responsibility to perform due diligence in reviewing real estate contracts, projecting environmental issues, being aware of building development plans, and making financial arrangements for their clients. Unfortunately, claims regarding errors in deed and mortgage preparation, closings, financing documents, and escrow funds, and failures in lien identification and disclosure of conditions that negatively affect property value are becoming more common.
Estate, Trust, and Probate Law
As Baby Boomers continue to transfer wealth, legal practices involving estate, trust, and probate law have experienced an increase in malpractice suits. An attorney drafting a will needs to take into account many technical issues, such as tax consequences, identity of heirs, and the precise language of estate distribution.
Rounding out the top six areas of law in which legal malpractice cases occur the most is family law. Property valuation and division, child custody, taxes, and mental health issues can create an emotionally charged environment. Inadequate investigation, failure to address alimony, and incorrect division of retirement benefits are mistakes sometimes made by family law attorneys.
Regardless of the type of law, you must prove that the following four conditions existed to demonstrate that legal malpractice occurred:
· There was an attorney-client relationship.
- The attorney was negligent.
- The attorney’s negligence caused damages, or harm, to you.
- The damage was significant.
Lawyers, like everyone else, make mistakes on occasion. Sometimes, those mistakes can rise to the level of negligence. If that negligence had a significant financial impact on you, we urge you to consult with a legal malpractice attorney.
What Do Legal Malpractice Laws Say?
There are few specific legal malpractice statutes, but there is consensus in the common law. Common law, also called case law, refers to the precedents and authority set by previous judicial opinions on a particular topic.
For legal malpractice to have occurred, you must prove that your lawyer breached a “standard of care.” Simply put, did your lawyer act in a manner consistent with how any reasonable lawyer in that community in possession of the same knowledge and skills would have acted? Did he or she do something that most lawyers know not to do in those circumstances? Or did they neglect to do something that similarly situated lawyers would have done? If so, they may be guilty of legal malpractice.
Every state has rules of professional conduct that govern the conduct of attorneys in that state. Not every violation of professional conduct is actionable, but a violation of these rules that rises to the level of negligence opens an attorney up to a potential legal malpractice lawsuit.
For example, if your lawyer doesn’t call you back, that isn’t generally actionable. But if your lawyer doesn’t call you back because they made a mistake in not having filed a lawsuit within the statute of limitations, you may have a case. Although violating professional conduct standards isn’t necessarily actionable, it may stem from actual negligent actions (or inaction).
So, the answer to the question “Can a lawyer be sued for legal malpractice?” is yes. You can file a lawsuit against an attorney whom you believe acted negligently as your legal representative. Call us if you have any inkling of legal malpractice and substantial losses; an attorney will evaluate your case for free.
What Are Common Legal Malpractice Situations?
Below are several categories of legal malpractice and examples of attorney behavior that could be considered negligent.
Attorneys have a fiduciary responsibility to their clients and should put their client’s interests in the forefront. For example, they should not act financially irresponsible on their client’s behalf by:
- Failing to cancel an equity line of credit after a property has been sold or refinanced in a real estate transaction
- Disbursing uncollected funds deposited in the attorney trust account
- Failing to preserve equitable distribution of alimony claims prior to the entry of a divorce judgement
- Failing to protect a valid medical lien
- Failing to follow proper wire security procedures
One of the most common malpractice issues concerns attorneys’ responsibility to manage timelines and avoid:
- Missed statutes of limitations
- Missed notices of claim filing
- Missed court-ordered deadlines
- Missed document submission deadlines
- Stopping work on a case without informing you
- Not showing up for a court hearing
Attorneys are also expected to know and follow legal rules and procedures. Violations of this duty can include:
- Failure to know or apply the law adequately to the work performed
- Failure to properly cancel an equity line of credit in a real estate transaction
- Failure to follow safety protocol in wiring funds
- Failure to investigate or protect retirement benefits in family law issues
- Failure to comply with procedural rules
- Failure to collect or present evidence and prepare adequately for trial
- Failure to oppose dismissal
- Failure to sue the correct parties
- Failure to perform due diligence in interviewing witnesses
In addition to providing clients with information about their rights, obligations, and the practical implications of their decisions, attorneys must always have the consent of their clients before taking legal action. For example, your attorney should not:
- Accept a settlement offer without your consent
- Fail to follow valid instructions given by you
If your lawyer demonstrated any of these behaviors during your case and you incurred serious damages, contact our legal malpractice lawyers immediately for a free case evaluation. Clients deserve competent legal representation, and we understand that once you lose confidence in your lawyer, it may be difficult to rely on another lawyer. But we will fight to earn your trust.
What Is the Statute of Limitations for Legal Malpractice?
Each state determines its own statute of limitations for legal malpractice. For example, you generally have three years from the last negligent act or omission of your attorney to file a legal malpractice claim in North Carolina, and you are given an extra year to file if the malpractice was not discovered until two or more years after the last act of malpractice. However, some states have a statute of limitations of as little as one year, so it’s unwise to wait; contact an attorney as soon as possible.
A malpractice attorney can help you understand how to sue a lawyer for legal malpractice and what your state’s statute of limitations for this are. At the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, we created a case management software solution that helps our attorneys keep track of approaching deadlines so they can avoid missing filing dates for their cases. We invested time and money towards developing this software because we take our commitment to our clients and their cases seriously.
What Should I Do if I Believe I’m a Victim of Legal Malpractice?
If you suffered significant financial harm because your lawyer failed to provide you with competent legal representation, contact a legal malpractice attorney immediately.
Keeping records on the following information can also help your case:
- Financial statements from your first attorney
- Retainer agreement with first attorney
- Documentation about missed deadlines, court appearances, and conflicts of interest
- Information about mistakes made during the case
- Dates and times when you tried to contact your attorney, and there were no replies
Legal malpractice cases can be complicated. For example, if your attorney missed the statute of limitations and this prevented you from going to trial, you and your legal malpractice attorney would need to establish that you would have won the original case had the filing occurred in a timely manner. This is the “case-within-a-case” principle which establishes that you must prove that you would have won the original case if your first attorney had fulfilled his or her professional duties appropriately. In some cases, this could mean re-trying the original case.
Don’t take on the enormous task alone. Get advice from a seasoned attorney. Contact us today for a free case evaluation.
What Kinds of Compensation Might I Receive for Legal Malpractice?
When your lawyer’s negligence harms you, that lawyer may be liable for the resulting damages. Potential legal malpractice damages include the financial harm that resulted from the lawyer’s negligence. The following examples describe the kinds of possible compensation a client could receive for different types of legal malpractice:
- Litigation malpractice example A:
A lawyer representing a client in a serious and compelling out-of-state personal injury case fails to recognize that the statute of limitations in that state is one year, not three years, as in his jurisdiction, and does not file the complaint in time.
- The damages could amount to whatever the value of the case would have been if it had been filed and tried.
- Litigation malpractice example B:
Same scenario, but the claim is for wrongful death, not personal injury. The lawyer thinks that the statute of limitations is the “usual” three years for personal injury, not the actual two-year period. By failing to timely file, he prevents his client from receiving the $2 million that probably would have been obtained through settlement, reflecting what a jury would likely have awarded.
- The $2 million could be sought as compensation for the damages the client suffered.
- Family law malpractice example:
A lawyer fails to preserve equitable distribution and/or alimony claims prior to an entry of divorce. The defendant spouse is a wealthy individual with expected significant future income production. The plaintiff spouse loses those claims due to the attorney’s negligence.
- Damages in this case could be claims associated with the defendant spouse’s future income.
- Corporate and commercial real estate example:
Lawyers at a large firm negligently draft inadequate closing documents for their developer client, resulting in the deal falling apart.
- The client’s damages could include the millions of dollars lost when the deal crashed.
- Trusts, estates, and wills example:
A wealthy individual retains an attorney to prepare her will. She leaves her $10 million estate to a charity. Several years later, she decides to change the will to leave her estate to her grandson, who was seriously disabled in an accident. She meets with her lawyer and specifically describes her new intentions and instructs him to change the will. She follows this instruction up with emails. Three months later, she passes, but the lawyer has not modified the will and the court will not honor her oral and email instructions.
- Damages in this case could be the $10 million that the deceased instructed her attorney to allocate to her grandson upon her death.
Is a Lawyer Required to Carry Malpractice Insurance?
Legal malpractice insurance coverage and disclosure of coverage requirements vary by state. As of 2021, the majority of states do not require attorneys to carry malpractice insurance. There are a few states that require a firm to carry certain limits depending on whether it’s an LLC, LLP, etc. This professional liability insurance requirement by state chart lists each state’s coverage and notification requirements as of February 2021.
If you can’t determine if your attorney carries malpractice insurance because your state does not require attorneys to inform the state bar, you have the right to ask your attorney the following questions:
- Do you maintain legal malpractice insurance coverage?
- If so, does your policy cover the type of work you did, or will do, for me?
- What are the limits of your coverage?
- What is the term of your coverage?
At the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, we will investigate if your original attorney has malpractice insurance, and we will help you pursue compensation for the wrongs you have suffered.
Should I Contact the State Bar if I Believe I Am a Victim of Legal Malpractice?
The state bar cannot help you if you want to fight for possible compensation for the harms you may have suffered due to your lawyer’s negligence. If you or your company has suffered substantial financial harm, you should contact a legal malpractice attorney.
While filing a claim and/or suing a lawyer for professional negligence may seem like a big undertaking, it is the only legal way to try to get restitution for any significant financial losses you may have suffered.
Filing a complaint, or grievance, against an attorney with the state bar starts a process that prompts the bar to investigate your complaint and recommend further action to be taken against the attorney or a dismissal of the complaint. But it will not result in any compensation to you. So, if you have been substantially financially harmed by a lawyer’s negligence, we urge you to consider pursuing a legal malpractice claim, as well as filing a bar grievance.
How Do I Choose a Lawyer to Help in My Legal Malpractice Case?
Here are some questions to ask when trying to determine an attorney to sue a lawyer for legal malpractice:
- Has the attorney ever tried a legal malpractice case?
- If so, what was the outcome of the case?
- Does the attorney know the specifics of your state’s statute of limitations for filing a legal malpractice claim?
- Has the attorney ever been sued for legal malpractice?
The answers to these questions may help you decide if the attorney is the right person for the job.
Our Legal Malpractice Team Fights for Our Clients’ Rights
Are you asking yourself, “Am I right to sue my lawyer for legal malpractice?” At the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, we believe that any lawyer whose negligence substantially harms a client financially should be held accountable.
Contact the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin for a free case evaluation. We understand that you may be reluctant to call another lawyer – but if your original lawyer did not live up to a reasonable standard of care and their negligence resulted in great financial harm and losses to you, we want to help.
We maintain high ethical standards at our firm, and we will fight to try to hold negligent attorneys accountable. You shouldn’t have to worry.
Our Complex Litigation attorneys have over 200 years of combined legal experience and more than 200 combined trial verdicts in their careers. We utilize proprietary software to streamline our case management processes and manage our statute of limitation filings and other important deadlines. We have the experience and resources to help our clients.
Gary Jackson, one of our lead litigation attorneys, has been advocating for others for more than 40 years. Throughout his law career, he has tried cases in the areas of consumer protection, construction litigation, business litigation, class actions, mass torts, products liability, medical negligence, nursing home negligence, estate disputes, and whistleblower claims.
Our legal malpractice team has a thorough understanding of what attorneys’ obligations and responsibilities are to their clients, and they apply this knowledge, combined with a relentless determination, to try to help clients victimized by legal malpractice.
For example, in 2021, Gary and two other James Scott Farrin attorneys, Paul Dickinson and Christopher Bagley, worked together to successfully appeal a North Carolina County Superior Court decision on a legal malpractice case for a client.1 Our team took the case to the Court of Appeals and successfully fought to reverse the earlier decision. This hard-fought victory allowed their client’s legal malpractice case to proceed (Podrebarac v. Perry, Bundy, Plyler, Long & Cox, LLP, 231 N.C. App. 70 (2013)).1
Prior to joining James Scott Farrin, Gary also successfully prosecuted a legal malpractice claim involving bankruptcy law in which the decision was upheld on appeal (Chase Dev. Grp. V. Fisher, Clinard & Cornwell, PLLC, 211 N.C. App. 295 (2011)).1
When we take on a legal malpractice case, there are no up-front costs for our clients because we operate on a contingency fee basis; we don’t collect an attorney’s fee unless we recover for you.2 This type of pay arrangement gives everyone the chance to obtain quality legal representation, and it motivates us to try to get you the best possible result, as fast as possible.
At the Law Offices of James Scott Farrin, we work hard to try to help restore our clients’ confidence in the legal system. Whether your attorney’s negligence was intentional or not, if it caused you significant financial harm, we urge you to give our office a call at 1-866-900-7078. The attorney-client relationship is built on trust, and you can trust us to fight for your rights.