Question

What are the elements of a legal malpractice case in California?

Stephen C. Ball

Answered by:
Stephen C. Ball

Located in Pasadena, CA
Ball & Bonholtzer

Stephen C. Ball - Personal Injury - General - Super Lawyers

Answered by: Stephen C. Ball

Ball & Bonholtzer
Pasadena, CA
Phone: 626-793-2117
Fax: 626-793-3198

View Profile
Answer

When you hire a lawyer, you expect them to handle your case with diligence, care and professionalism. Sometimes they break that trust, making careless mistakes or gross errors in judgment. Clients in these situations may be able to pursue compensation.

In California, there are three elements to a legal malpractice claim. You must demonstrate that: 

  1. You were a client.
  2. Your attorney was negligent in some way.
  3. That negligence caused you financial harm.

Each of these elements involves multiple considerations.

1. Attorney-Client Relationship

First, you must show that an attorney-client relationship existed. This might be evident from a retainer agreement, representation agreement or the like. You might have paid the attorney to handle your case – or signed a contingency fee arrangement agreeing to pay them a percentage of the award.

Yet it’s not always that simple. Maybe you never signed any formal paperwork, but the lawyer gave you the impression that they were taking your case. Maybe they helped you with legal issues in the past. Perhaps you even shared confidential information with them. An attorney-client relationship might still exist in these gray areas.

It’s worth noting that some types of cases don’t require this element. For example, beneficiaries of a will or trust may have a claim against a lawyer hired to protect their interests, even if they weren’t clients themselves.

2. Negligence

As professionals, lawyers are held to high standards. They must act with the same level of diligence and prudence as other attorneys would under similar circumstances. Any failure to uphold this standard of care amounts to professional negligence.

In some cases, the negligence is obvious. Perhaps your lawyer missed a critical deadline (such as a statute of limitations) or forgot to file key court documents. Maybe they overlooked a critical point of law, failed to disclose a conflict of interest or neglected to conduct a thorough investigation.

Yet not all cases are so straightforward – especially when they involve niche or complex practice areas. For this reason, expert testimony is often a linchpin in establishing negligence.

3. Financial Loss

The final element of a legal malpractice is also the most onerous. You must show that, were it not for your lawyer’s negligence, you would likely have gotten a better outcome. Essentially, this requires trying your original case.

Holding a “trial within a trial” adds a significant layer of complexity to legal malpractice cases. It’s also critical for proving damages. For example, if your lawyer mishandled a personal injury claim, you will need to show how much you likely could have recovered in that claim.

Putting It All Together

As you can see, a successful legal malpractice case involves complex moving parts. Piecing it all together requires a strategic approach and ironclad evidence for each of the three elements.

Disclaimer: The answer is intended to be for informational purposes only. It should not be relied on as legal advice, nor construed as a form of attorney-client relationship.

Other Answers By Stephen C. Ball

Motor Vehicle Accidents

What insurance issues can affect my California car accident case?

Car accidents are stressful ordeals. On top of the physical injuries, time off work and traumatic emotional aftermath, you may also be struggling to …

Answered by: Stephen C. Ball

Brain Injury

What damages are available in California brain injury cases?

Traumatic brain injuries are among the most severe, life-altering transformations anyone could undergo. They can leave victims with completely …

Answered by: Stephen C. Ball

Wrongful Death

What damages are available in California wrongful death cases?

Wrongful death – when a loved one is snatched away, before their time, because of someone else’s negligence – is the ultimate …

Answered by: Stephen C. Ball

Other Answers About Legal Malpractice

Legal Malpractice

Can I sue my lawyer or attorney for legal malpractice in Massachusetts?

Lawyers (also called attorneys), like most other professionals such as physicians, architects, accountants and nurses, owe a duty of care to their …

Answered by: Russell X. Pollock

Legal Malpractice

Can I sue my divorce or personal injury attorney in Colorado?

Two of the most common areas of legal malpractice are divorce cases and personal injury cases. Divorce Legal Malpractice Cases In divorce …

Answered by: Anthony Viorst

Legal Malpractice

I Think My California Lawyer Committed Malpractice. What Can I Do About It?

Most attorneys care about their clients and diligently pursue their matters. Unfortunately, even careful attorneys sometimes make mistakes that have …

Answered by: Mark B. Wilson

Disclaimer:

If you send a lawyer or law firm email through this service, your email will not create an attorney-client relationship and will not necessarily be treated as privileged or confidential. You should not send sensitive or confidential information via this email service. The lawyer or law firm to whom you are writing may not choose to accept you as a client. Moreover, as the Internet is not necessarily a secure environment it is possible that your email sent via the Internet might be intercepted and read by third parties. Super Lawyers will not retain a copy of this message.

Page Generated: 0.40189290046692 sec