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Does your lawyer’s performance equate to legal malpractice?

On Behalf of | Feb 17, 2021 | Legal Malpractice

Southern California is an immensely vibrant and busy area when it comes to commercial activity. Proven business principals and enterprising startup entrepreneurs are at the forefront of an economic dynamism that is unrivaled in depth and scope anywhere else in the country.

Legal matters are understandably core considerations in the commercial sphere. They prominently surface in every aspect of business affairs, ranging from entity selection and the drafting of key contracts to regulatory compliance, tax concerns, employer-worker relationships and more.

In a nutshell, company owners and other key managers in every industry centrally rely on legal advice to guide them as they seek to steer their enterprises toward continued profitably and success.

In doing so, they reasonably expect this: The professional guidance they receive is competently offered and – as a minimum – on par with accepted performance standards in the legal industry.

What if it isn’t, though? What recourse does a justifiably reliant business client have when legal representation harms the bottom line rather than promotes a sound outcome?

The contours of legal malpractice: What is it?

In an ideal commercial universe, all rendered legal advice is sound and conducive to winning results.

In the real world, though, that is far from the norm. Lawyers make errors, which frustrate client expectations.

Although doing so can obviously reap downsides in a given case, reliant parties cannot automatically assume that a lawyerly lapse is legally actionable. An authoritative California legal source on legal malpractice duly underscores that. It notes that “clients must be aware that simply proving an attorney made a mistake is not enough to prove litigation or trial malpractice.”

More is needed. The following must be established as the basis for bringing a claim against legal counsel for substandard representation:

  • Existence of attorney-client relationship
  • Reasonable expectation of competent performance was defeated by attorney conduct falling below accepted standard of care in the profession (i.e, negligence)
  • Attorney failure caused measurable client harm
  • Absent counsel’s dereliction, client would have secured better result (so-called “but for” test)

The potential sources of material attorney misconduct leading to performance breach and client harm are many and diverse. Here are some commonly implicated lapses:

  • Billing disagreements (overbilling, vague charges, repetitive entries and more)
  • Conflict of interest (e.g., attorney having adverse personal interest in a client matter or simultaneously representing both sides)
  • Incompetence (including lack of knowledge and failure to prepare)
  • Missed deadlines
  • Inadequate communication

Subpar legal performance can obviously prove deeply harmful for a client. Any business principal seeking to respond purposefully in its wake can turn to a proven and empathetic team of legal malpractice attorneys for guidance and diligent representation.