Lawyers Make Mistakes

I was recently contacted by a very nice individual who is the apparent victim of legal malpractice. Let’s call him Sam. His prior lawyer failed to file mandatory paperwork before trial which, among several other related mistakes, prevented Sam from being allowed to present certain evidence to the jury during trial.

It is my understanding that the lawyer acknowledged his mistakes to Sam but failed and refused to do anything about it. In fact, this lawyer still charged Sam the full amount for all his fees and costs. This is despite the fact that this lawyer’s mistakes cost Sam someplace between $900,000 and $1,500,000.

Sam’s story is very sad. I feel sorry for him. Having said that, I am very selective about the cases my firm accepts and have not yet decided if I’ll be taking Sam’s case on. After I review a bit more documentation, I should be in a good position to make a final decision.

Until then, Sam’s legal malpractice case reminded me to share the following fact with consumers…

Lawyers make mistakes all the time.

They’re human and stuff happens. In some cases mistakes get made because a lawyer is lazy, inattentive or overwhelmed. In other situations an attorney make neglect the details of a case because of an illness or even substance abuse.

Lawyers are human. They have flaws.

There’s no excuse for legal malpractice but I do want to share the simple fact with you that it happens. How you deal with and react to a mistake made by a lawyer is completely up to you.

Personally, I’d start off with making an appointment and talking with the lawyer about your concerns and about what happened. It might even be a good idea to have a friend accompany you to the meeting. Most of the time this simple step will help you resolve the issue.

If after meeting with the lawyer the matter is not resolved to your complete satisfaction or, if you simply are not interested in meeting with the lawyer, you may want to report the lawyer to the California State Bar for review and possible action. Depending on the merit of your claim and the severity of the malpractice, the State Bar will independently review your concerns and reprimand or sanction the lawyer for his malpractice.

The State Bar also has a victim restitution fund designed to provide victims of malpractice some level of financial compensation. In some instances, it may allow a lawyer to continue practicing law after he or she has successfully complied with the suspension and usually only after passing an ethical examination.

Again, each case is different. No two legal malpractice claims are ever the same.

In addition to the above, you also have the right to retain legal counsel to pursue a legal malpractice case against the offending lawyer and his or her malpractice insurance carrier. Most will do so on a contingency fee basis. Of interest is the ethical requirement of the new lawyer to report the offending lawyer to the State Bar. Not all do but the ethics requirements are clear on the issue.

Lawyers who commit malpractice should be held accountable for their wrongful conduct. By correctly dealing with this situation, not only do you maximize your chances of being made whole, but you will also help others avoid becoming malpractice victims of the very same lawyer.

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