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Client fights back against lawyer who attacks her credibility, and wins

Attorneys have a duty to provide competent counsel to their clients. This includes competent knowledge of applicable law and a requirement to conduct one's self in line with professional ethics. A failure in either realm can support a legal malpractice claim.

A recent case provides an example of a failure of an attorney to conduct himself in line with expected professional ethics standards. In this case, a woman hired an attorney for representation against her condominium association. The initial legal issue involved a question as to whether a special assessment levied by the condominium association was appropriate.

The client states the attorney failed to provide competent representation during the claim. More specifically, she states the attorney:

  • Failed to properly communicate about the case. The client claims her attorney failed to communicate important information about the claim. The primary example: a failure to communicate the risk of foreclosure if the client did not make payments to the condominium association. The claim also states the attorney failed to explain the result of court hearings for her claim.
  • Failed to clearly explain payment expectations. Attorneys are also required to provide a clear explanation of expected payment. In this case, the woman alleges the attorney failed to provide a written fee agreement.
  • Failed to provide copies of records in a timely manner. The client also states the attorney failed to provide her file to new legal counsel in a timely manner.

Based on these claims, the client filed suit requesting monetary damages for the loss of equity in her condominium, the monthly income derived for rental of the unit. The client estimates this loss at $377,641.52 with an additional $1,700.00 in rental income on a monthly basis. The client has also stated the allegedly poor representation led to emotional distress and mental pain and anguish. As such, requested additional monetary fees to cover the psychological damage of the experience as well as the continued feeling of panic and helplessness.

In response to this claim, the attorney filed an electronic motion with the court stating the former client was unable to testify due to her psychiatric history. The attorney then attached a record of the client's mental health history without receiving permission to release such information. This action led to the challenge that the attorney was failing to conduct himself in line with expected professional ethics. The Court agreed. Ultimately, in this issue, the Court found that the attorneys release of this history was a violation of Rule 1.9 in the Professional Rules of Conduct. His actions were found retaliatory and intended to embarrass his former client. The Court required completion of 20 hours of legal ethics training and suspended his law license for two years.

This case provides two lessons for client. First, it provides an example of the types of damages and claims clients can make when building a legal malpractice claim. Second, it shows how complex these cases are. In the midst of filing a claim for one form of malpractice, the attorney completed a second act of malpractice that required additional legal action.

Those who are wronged by an attorney who violates his or her duty to provide competent counsel have options. Contact an attorney experienced in legal malpractice matters to discuss your case.

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