The court system and the litigation process, technically speaking, is open to anybody who wishes to participate in it. Realistically and practically speaking, though, attorneys are gatekeepers to the legal system, and ordinary people rely on the experience and expertise of zealous advocates to effectively address their legal needs.
Quality legal representation can be a critical factor in the outcome of any case. When, therefore, an attorney fails to act in the best interests of his or her client, it can be quite frustrating for the client. In some cases, it can have devastating consequences for the client's case. When an attorney really fails in his or her duties to the client, the client has the ability to seek compensation for an advocate’s failures in legal malpractice litigation. What exactly is legal malpractice, though?
Legal malpractice refers to an attorney’s failure to uphold his or her legal and professional duties to the client. These responsibilities include, among other things, the duty to: provide competent representation; exercise diligence and promptness in handling a client’s case; maintain appropriate communications with clients; keep client information confidential; steer clear of conflicts of interest; and maintain a proper relationship with client funds.
According to the American Bar Association, the most common bases for legal malpractice claims are, in order of ranking: failure to know and/or apply the law; planning errors; inadequate discovery and investigation of a claim; failure to file documents or to set deadlines; failure to schedule important events in the handling of a case; procrastination; failure to obtain the client’s consent; conflicts of interests; and fraud.
The central feature of any legal malpractice claim is the contention that the attorney failed to follow an established standard of care in handling the legal needs of the client. We’ll look at this issue more in our next post.
Sources: Legal Information Institute, “New Jersey Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct,” Accessed August 1, 2016.