A Guide to Legal Malpractice

In our profession, where trust and integrity are paramount, instances of legal malpractice can be particularly distressing for clients who have placed their faith in their legal representation.

In this blog post, we will delve into the intricate world of legal malpractice, shedding light on its definition, common scenarios, and the recourse available to individuals who find themselves victims of attorney negligence. We’ll explore the fundamental principles that underpin legal malpractice claims, including the duty of care owed by attorneys to their clients, and the statute of limitations governing such claims in the Commonwealth. 

It’s crucial for both attorneys and clients alike to familiarize themselves with the intricacies of legal malpractice law, as it serves as a cornerstone in upholding the integrity of our legal system and safeguarding the rights of individuals seeking justice. By fostering a deeper understanding of the obligations and responsibilities inherent in the attorney-client relationship, we can strive towards a profession characterized by transparency, accountability, and unwavering commitment to ethical conduct.

What is Legal Malpractice?

Legal malpractice refers to the professional negligence or misconduct by an attorney that causes harm or damages to a client. This harm can manifest in various ways, including financial loss, adverse legal outcomes, or the violation of a client’s rights. Essentially, legal malpractice occurs when an attorney fails to perform their duties competently and diligently, thereby falling short of the standard of care expected within the legal profession.

Key elements of legal malpractice include duty of care; breach of duty; causation; and damages. To pursue a legal malpractice claim, the client must have suffered actual damages because of the attorney’s negligence. 

Professionalism is the Word

I highly Recommend Gibson & Perkins.  I have used their services for approximately 6 years now and been through a few cases together with very positive outcomes.  Personally, I have used Paul Fellman and Walter Timby on those occasions.  Both, as a team & separately these Attorneys were wonderful to work with and easily accessible to reach if I had any questions.  Professionalism is the word that comes to mind to describe the firm, as a whole.  Always completely prepared for any surprises that may pop up during a trial.  They were well versed on all pertinent info pertaining to each case.  As I client, I always felt I was an integral part of the team, not an after-thought, that had to be brought up to speed a half hour before the trial started.  I could not recommend this firm and Mr. Fellman and Mr. Timby any higher.
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Common Examples of Legal Malpractice

Failure to File or Meet Deadlines: Missing filing deadlines or court appearances can have serious consequences for a client’s case, potentially resulting in dismissal or adverse judgments.

Incompetent Representation: Providing substandard legal advice, making critical errors in legal documents, or lacking the necessary expertise to handle a particular matter may constitute legal malpractice.

Conflicts of Interest: Failing to disclose conflicts of interest or representing clients with conflicting interests can compromise an attorney’s ability to provide impartial and effective representation.

Breach of Confidentiality: Violating client confidentiality or disclosing privileged information without authorization constitutes a breach of the attorney’s duty of loyalty and confidentiality.

Statute of Limitations in Pennsylvania

It’s important to note that legal malpractice claims are subject to a statute of limitations, which imposes a time limit for filing a lawsuit. In Pennsylvania, the statute of limitations for legal malpractice is typically two years from the date the client discovers or reasonably should have discovered the malpractice.

If you believe you have been the victim of legal malpractice, it’s crucial to consult with experienced legal professionals who can assess your case and advise you on the best course of action.

At Gibson & Perkins, we are dedicated to advocating for our clients’ rights and holding negligent attorneys accountable for their actions. 

To help you better understand what legal malpractice looks like in Pennsylvania, let’s take a closer look at the key elements.

What is Negligent Conduct?

Negligent conduct, in the context of legal malpractice, refers to actions or omissions by an attorney that fall below the standard of care expected within the legal profession. It encompasses a failure to exercise the level of competence and diligence that a reasonable attorney would employ under similar circumstances. Negligent conduct can take various forms, ranging from simple errors in judgment to more egregious breaches of professional duty.

Elements of Negligent Conduct

Breach of Duty: The cornerstone of negligent conduct in legal malpractice cases is a breach of the attorney’s duty of care towards their client. Attorneys owe a duty to provide competent and diligent representation, which includes acting in the client’s best interests, exercising sound judgment, and adhering to ethical and professional standards.

Failure to Exercise Reasonable Skill and Care: Negligent conduct often involves a failure to exercise the degree of skill, care, and prudence that a reasonably competent attorney would employ in similar circumstances. This may manifest in errors in legal analysis, drafting of legal documents, or application of legal principles.

Proximate Cause: Negligent conduct must be causally linked to the harm or damages suffered by the client. In other words, the client must demonstrate that the attorney’s actions or omissions directly contributed to the adverse outcome or loss experienced.

Examples of Negligent Conduct in Legal Malpractice

Failure to Conduct Adequate Legal Research: An attorney’s failure to thoroughly research relevant legal precedents or statutes before advising a client or presenting arguments in court may constitute negligent conduct.

Missed Deadlines or Court Appearances: Neglecting to meet filing deadlines or appear in court on behalf of a client can have serious repercussions and may be considered negligent conduct.

Inadequate Communication with the Client: Failing to keep the client informed about the progress of their case, respond to inquiries in a timely manner, or obtain necessary instructions may constitute negligent conduct.

Lack of Supervision or Oversight: In cases involving multiple attorneys or a legal team, a failure to adequately supervise or oversee the work of subordinate attorneys may lead to negligent conduct.

What Does Breach of Contract Mean?

Breach of contract occurs when one party fails to fulfill its obligations as outlined in a legally binding agreement. In the realm of legal malpractice, the attorney-client relationship is governed by an implicit or explicit contract, wherein the attorney agrees to provide competent and diligent representation in exchange for the client’s payment of fees or other consideration. A breach of this contractual agreement by the attorney may give rise to a legal malpractice claim.

Elements of Breach of Contract in Legal Malpractice

Existence of a Contractual Relationship: The first element in establishing a breach of contract in legal malpractice cases is demonstrating the existence of a contractual relationship between the attorney and the client. This may be evidenced by a formal written engagement agreement, or an implied contract based on the attorney’s representation of the client.

Failure to Perform Obligations: Breach of contract occurs when the attorney fails to perform their obligations under the terms of the agreement. This may include a failure to provide competent legal advice, represent the client diligently, or fulfill other contractual duties agreed upon between the parties.

Materiality of the Breach: The breach must be material, meaning that it is significant enough to undermine the purpose of the contract or deprive the client of the benefit they expected to receive. In legal malpractice cases, material breaches may involve errors that result in adverse legal outcomes, financial losses, or other harm to the client.

Examples of Breach of Contract in Legal Malpractice

Failure to Meet Agreed-upon Deadlines: If an attorney fails to meet deadlines outlined in the engagement agreement, such as filing deadlines or court appearances, it may constitute a breach of contract.

Providing Incompetent Legal Advice: A breach of contract may occur if the attorney provides legal advice that falls below the standard of care expected within the legal profession, resulting in harm to the client.

Conflicts of Interest: Failing to disclose conflicts of interest or representing clients with conflicting interests may violate the terms of the engagement agreement and constitute a breach of contract.

Failure to Communicate: If the attorney fails to communicate effectively with the client or keep them informed about the progress of their case, it may breach the contractual obligation to provide diligent representation.

Ethics Violations and Legal Malpractice

A crucial aspect that often comes into play in legal malpractice cases is the violation of the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Rules of Professional Conduct.

The ABA’s Rules of Professional Conduct serve as a set of ethical guidelines that govern the behavior and responsibilities of attorneys in the United States. These rules are designed to uphold the integrity of the legal profession, protect the interests of clients, and promote public confidence in the legal system. Violating these rules can have serious consequences, including disciplinary action by state bar associations and potential liability in legal malpractice cases.

Understanding Violations in the Context of Legal Malpractice

When attorneys engage in conduct that violates the ABA’s Rules of Professional Conduct, it can give rise to legal malpractice claims if the client suffers harm as a result. While not every violation of the rules automatically constitutes legal malpractice, certain breaches may be indicative of negligence or misconduct that falls below the standard of care expected within the legal profession.

Clients who believe their attorney has violated the ABA’s Rules of Professional Conduct and caused them harm may have grounds to pursue legal malpractice claims. However, proving such violations requires a thorough understanding of both the rules themselves and their application in the context of legal representation. It often necessitates expert testimony from legal professionals who can assess the attorney’s conduct and its compliance with ethical standards. At Gibson & Perkins, we are dedicated to upholding the highest standards of professionalism and ethical conduct in our practice. 

Understanding violations of the ABA’s Rules of Professional Conduct is essential for both attorneys and clients in navigating legal malpractice cases. By recognizing the significance of ethical standards and accountability in the legal profession, we can work towards ensuring the protection of clients’ rights and upholding the integrity of the legal system.

What Types of Damages Can Be Rewarded in Legal Malpractice Cases?

Various types of damages may be awarded in legal malpractice cases. These include:

Compensatory Damages

Compensatory damages are designed to compensate the victim for the harm they have suffered as a result of the attorney’s negligence. These damages aim to restore the victim to the position they would have been in had the malpractice not occurred. Compensatory damages in legal malpractice cases may include:

Financial Losses: This encompasses any monetary losses incurred by the client as a direct result of the attorney’s negligence. It may include costs associated with legal fees, court costs, settlements, judgments, or other expenses that the client would not have otherwise incurred.

Loss of Opportunity: If the attorney’s negligence deprived the client of the opportunity to pursue a favorable outcome in their legal matter, they may be entitled to damages reflecting the value of that lost opportunity.

Emotional Distress: In cases where the attorney’s negligence causes significant emotional harm to the client, such as anxiety, stress, or mental anguish, compensatory damages may be awarded to address these non-economic losses.

Punitive Damages

In certain circumstances, punitive damages may be awarded in addition to compensatory damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish the attorney for particularly egregious conduct and deter similar behavior in the future. However, punitive damages are relatively rare in legal malpractice cases and typically require a showing of intentional misconduct or reckless disregard for the client’s rights.

Attorney’s Fees and Costs

In some jurisdictions, prevailing plaintiffs in legal malpractice cases may be entitled to recover their attorney’s fees and litigation costs incurred in pursuing the claim. This serves to alleviate the financial burden on the victim and incentivize attorneys to take on meritorious legal malpractice cases

Statutory Damages

Some states have enacted statutes that provide for specific damages in legal malpractice cases. These statutory damages may vary depending on the jurisdiction and the nature of the malpractice involved. It’s essential to consult with experienced legal professionals to understand the statutory damages available in a particular case.

Mitigation of Damages

It’s important to note that victims of legal malpractice have a duty to mitigate their damages by taking reasonable steps to minimize the harm caused by the attorney’s negligence. Failure to mitigate damages may affect the amount of compensation ultimately awarded to the victim.

Fighting For Your Legal Rights

At Gibson & Perkins law firm, our team of legal malpractice attorneys in Media, Pennsylvania understands that malpractice cases often entail complexities beyond what meets the eye. Drawing from decades of collective experience, our legal malpractice lawyers possess the knowledge necessary to navigate the intricacies of the courtroom.

Like other professions, attorneys are held to rigorous standards of excellence. Failure to uphold these standards can have serious consequences for both the client and the attorney involved. When attorneys negligently fail to provide the expected quality of care, they may find themselves facing a malpractice lawsuit.

Our Pennsylvania-based legal malpractice attorneys are dedicated to seeking justice for clients who have been wronged by the negligence of attorneys in our state. Whether you require a second legal opinion, are pursuing a legal malpractice claim following the resolution of your case, or are grappling with an attorney who refuses to return your case file, Gibson & Perkins, PC is here to provide assistance.

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