In several posts on our blog we have covered claims of legal malpractice against New Jersey attorneys and law firms. Most of the time, such claims — and the lawsuits that they can lead to — are based on a well-recognized number of underlying issues between attorney and client. Some of these include:
Missing deadlines. The civil and criminal legal systems are deadline-driven, beginning with the statute of limitations within which to file a lawsuit through the time permitted to effect service of process and to respond to legal complaints and motions. Failing to meet a legal deadline can result in more than embarrassment; it can be fatal to a plaintiff’s claim, or can lead to a default judgment against a defendant.
Substance abuse. Practicing law can be highly stressful on legal professionals as well as clients. Unfortunately, the response of some attorneys to stress can be to “self-medicate” with alcohol, prescription drug abuse, or illegal drugs. Often other causes of legal malpractice claims — such as missed deadlines, above — are symptomatic of the effects of substance abuse.
Conflicts of interest. These can occur if the attorney for some reason is representing both parties in a dispute (for example, both spouses in a divorce matter) or if the attorney has some self-interest in a matter that is in conflict with his or her duty to zealously represent the client’s interest.
Substantive legal errors. An attorney who makes a legal mistake that a reasonable attorney in his or her position would not have made can be subject to a claim of malpractice, especially if the effect of the mistake was detrimental to the client’s interests.
Mishandling of client funds. A basic ethical principal for attorneys is to carefully manage and to diligently account for client funds placed in their care, as retainers or otherwise. Co-mingling client funds with other monies, or spending client funds on matters not connected to the client’s matter are high-risk behaviors that can easily lead to malpractice claims.
The above are not all of the ways in which an attorney can run afoul of a legal malpractice dispute with a client or former client. Anyone who believes that he or she has a potential claim against an attorney for malpractice should consult with a law office that practices in the area of legal malpractice to properly evaluate and where appropriate to pursue such a claim.