Can Lawyers Be Sued for Legal Malpractice?
Lawyers and law firms can be sued for legal malpractice.
By Attorney Jeffery L. Robinette
Legal malpractice is not relegated to just the worst of lawyers and law firms. Even the most competent and experienced lawyers can make mistakes, sometimes even costly mistakes that damage their own clients. What separates good lawyers and law firms from undesirable lawyers and law firms is not just how they practice law, but how they plan to protect their own clients from mistakes that they make on their case.
To ensure their clients get the very best legal representation, good lawyers and law firms maintain legal malpractice insurance coverage. It is important to know that attorneys and law firms are not required to maintain legal malpractice insurance, unless they are organized as a professional limited liability company, or "PLLC" as it is commonly referred to by the legal profession.
Look for that designation on your lawyer's letterhead or other legal papers; if the PLLC designation is present, they are required to have at least $1 Million Dollars in legal malpractice coverage. Some law firms are not organized as a PLLC, but nonetheless maintain legal malpractice coverage.
If you have hired a lawyer or law firm that does not appear to have legal malpractice coverage, you not only will have to prove a difficult case of legal malpractice, but you will also have difficulty collecting on any recovery you ultimately may receive in a court of law.
It is also important to realize that it is no easy task to prove legal malpractice in many cases -- even if your lawyer has grossly neglected your case. There are literally hundreds, if not thousands of laws, cases, and rules that apply to many civil claims. Only a skilled lawyer who specializes in legal malpractice claims can make a proper assessment of any given case.
Since most legal malpractice claims have a component of ethical violations intertwined with actionable negligence in handling the claim, many clients mistake these ethical violations -- failure to communicate and misrepresentation of status of claim -- for the actionable negligence of mishandling their claim. For instance, consider the case where the lawyer has misrepresented the status of the case to his client, and then lied about it.
While these unacceptable discrepancies are clearly violations of ethical standards, they are not, however, in and of themselves, a valid basis for a malpractice claim.
There are many ways a lawyer can malpractice a case, but the most common deal with failure to file a timely complaint and failure to prosecute the claim once filed. In other words, the lawyer simply ignores the case and it is either dismissed outright or dismissed on summary judgment for failure to develop the case.
Other Common Attorney Mistakes
- Missed Filing Deadlines
- Planning Errors and Substantive Mistakes
- Inadequate Discovery and Investigation
- Failure to Appear In Court
- Failure to Obtain Client Consent to Settlements
- Fraud and Misuse of Clients Funds
Legal Requirements to File a Legal Malpractice Claim
- Written proof of a valid attorney-client relationship between you and your lawyer;
- Your original claim had merit and value if handled competently and professionally by legal counsel;
- Your attorney failed to handle your claim in a professional and competent manner; and
- As a consequence of your attorney's mistakes and mishandling of your claim, you suffered damages.
Tips for Hiring a Legal Malpractice Attorney
Even though an attorney has been practicing law for decades, that does not mean that they are qualified or experienced in practicing every type of law proficiently.
Here are some guidelines to help you in your search for the best lawyer to represent your legal malpractice claim:
Do the Background Research:
- Look for National Board Certification credentials
- Look for AV Rating from Martindale-Hubbell
- Look for 10.0 Rating from Avvo and check reviews
- Look for Super Lawyer Rating
- Look at Client Testimonials and Case Results
- Look for an Attorney who has Legal Malpractice Insurance, as indicated by PLLC at the end of the firm’s name
- Check Google reviews
Even excellent attorneys can make a mistake, and if they do, their clients should be protected. The West Virginia State Bar mandates that all professional limited liability companies have at least one million dollars in liability protection for legal malpractice.
West Virginia Legal Malpractice Attorney
West Virginia Legal Malpractice Attorney Jeff Robinette has gained recognition as one of West Virginia’s foremost legal malpractice representation attorneys and has successfully settled many valuable and complex lawyer malpractice claims. Read more about Attorney Robinette in his profile.
If you have questions about a West Virginia attorney malpractice claim for personal injury or arising from a medical malpractice claim, call the Robinette Legal Group PLLC and one of our attorneys would be glad to speak with you. 304.594.1800.