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Proving causation is an integral part of a legal malpractice claim

An attorney is in a unique situation to help a client in need. Whether the client is injured and seeking help with the costs of recovery, looking to prevent business losses in a transaction or in need of legal guidance of any type, an attorney must act with an appropriate level of honesty, integrity, good faith and diligence towards that client. While an attorney acts as a legal advisor and lends knowledge and experience to the role, the client and the client's wishes are the first priority.

Unfortunately, attorneys are human and make mistakes. When a mistake harms a client, however, that may lead to a legal malpractice claim. Simply losing a case for a client does not mean legal malpractice occurred. Failing to get as big of a settlement as the client believes he or she deserved also does not necessarily constitute legal malpractice. In order to successfully sue an attorney for malpractice, the client must show that the attorney acted negligently in the client's case according to accepted standards in the legal community.

In addition, the negligence must have caused harm to the client. For example, during any given trial an attorney may make several missteps. But unless the client can prove that "but for" those missteps, he or she would have won the case, there is no claim for legal malpractice. Proving a mistake caused harm is the crux of many legal malpractice cases.

Proving causation

Proving an attorney caused harm to the client can be difficult. The defendant in the underlying lawsuit is unlikely to testify in favor of the individual who previously sued them. For example, "I would have been forced to settle for big money except, fortunately for me, the other attorney screwed up" is not something the defendant in the underlying case would likely testify to. Still, in order to win a malpractice claim, the plaintiff must prove that he or she would have recovered in the lawsuit, or been in a better legal or financial position, if not for certain acts or omissions of the previous attorney.

Attorneys often protect themselves from malpractice suits by documenting risks and benefits of settlement agreements and actions before trial. If the client ultimately made a decision to settle a case, for example, so long as the client was informed of the options and risks there is no malpractice case.

However, the hurdles of a legal malpractice case are in no means insurmountable. Attorneys have certain ethical and professional responsibilities to which they must adhere. People who believe a previous attorney provided negligent or unethical services should contact an experienced legal malpractice attorney who can handle potential legal obstacles, to help them analyze whether the alleged negligence or unethical services caused them harm.

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