When you hire a professional, you create a business relationship. This is true whether you are working with a plumber, hiring someone to mow your lawn, or retaining an attorney. Yet you do not hear of court cases in which a dissatisfied customer sues a plumber for malpractice, but you likely have heard of such cases involving lawyers.
So what makes the attorney-client relationship different from an ordinary business relationship?
Is it the cost of the services involved? No. You can pay someone more per hour than an attorney, but if you do not like the work that person does chances are that your claim will be warranty-based rather than representative of a fundamental breach of trust.
It is in fact the nature of that trust that underlies the concept of legal malpractice.
The relationship between client and attorney is fiduciary in nature. Courts in New Jersey have long held that attorneys who do not uphold the ethical standards imposed on them by their profession are not necessarily subject to tort-based liability for such a failure, like if you sued a business for fraud if it fails to keep its promise to you to deliver a product or service. Rather, the breach of fiduciary trust in a malpractice lawsuit relates to the failure of the attorney to meet minimum standards of competence required by his or her profession.
Thus, given the fiduciary responsibility of the attorney to the client, a legal malpractice lawsuit is not like an ordinary tort claim against someone else you may hire to do a job, alleging negligence, but instead is more like medical malpractice: you need to be able to place a higher level of trust and confidence in your lawyer not because he or she charges you a lot of money, but because often the stakes are much higher and the consequences more grave if the attorney makes a mistake that indicates that he or she does not meet the minimum level of professional competence required of a fiduciary.
If you have been represented by an attorney, and you believe that the service you have received has been incompetent or even unethical, a good place to begin your inquiry as to whether legal malpractice has occurred would be to consult with another attorney whose practice includes helping people with New Jersey legal malpractice claims.