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Holding attorneys accountable for malpractice

Although most people know about medical malpractice from its extensive treatment in the media, fewer are likely familiar with legal malpractice. Like doctors, attorneys are professionals and owe their clients a minimum standard of care, so they too can be subject to malpractice lawsuits.

About attorney malpractice

Attorneys are bound by certain rules of professional conduct. Under these rules, attorneys must perform their legal services with a minimum standard of professional care. Any attorney who fails to meet the minimum standard that causes the client to suffer damages as a result has committed legal malpractice.

It is important to note that in order for an attorney to be liable for malpractice, there first must be an attorney-client relationship. Although this implies that there must be a formal written representation agreement in place, this is not the case, as an attorney-client relationship may arise from an implied arrangement.

When does malpractice occur?

Legal malpractice can occur in a variety of situations when the attorney's conduct causes the client to suffer damages. It can happen due to the attorney's neglect or incompetence, such as failing to file a lawsuit, papers or documents with the court within the time period dictated by the law. Such a mistake can harm the client by hindering (or preventing) him or her from successfully recovering damages in his or her lawsuit or by not properly protecting the client's interest.

Legal malpractice can also occur when the attorney engages in clearly unethical behavior such as using client funds for his or her own purposes or failing to account for the client's funds or property (e.g. retainers or trust funds).

Remedies of client

Victims of legal malpractice may file a lawsuit against the attorney to recover attorneys' fees and damages resulting from the wrongful behavior.

It is important to note that a malpractice lawsuit is only appropriate in cases of attorney misconduct, negligence or unethical behavior. It is not the proper remedy for clients who are simply unhappy with how their case was resolved. For these instances, filing an appeal is often the best way to seek redress.

In addition, the ethical behavior of all attorneys is monitored by a bar association in each state. In Massachusetts, clients who believe that they have been the victim of unethical conduct can file a complaint with the Board of Bar Overseers. After an investigation of the attorney's conduct, the Board may discipline the attorney if it finds evidence of misconduct or malpractice. Depending on the seriousness of the conduct, discipline can include a public or private reprimand, license suspension or disbarment. However, it is important to note that the Board of Bar Overseers will not award monetary damages to a client; it can only discipline an attorney for its misconduct or malpractice. Monetary damages must be sought through a civil claim.

If you believe that your legal matter has been compromised due to legal malpractice, contact an attorney experienced with legal malpractice cases. An attorney can review your claim, determine whether malpractice occurred and work to hold the responsible party accountable.

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