The dedicated attorneys at Slater & Zurz believe all lawyers have an ethical and legal obligation to uphold their fiduciary responsibility to their clients. As with physicians and accountants, those in the legal profession should be trusted completely to act in their client’s best interests. When the attorney fails to do so, they need to be held accountable for the harm they cause.
With over 100 years of collective experience, our Cleveland legal malpractice lawyers know what it takes to handle these complex cases successfully. Our firm has consistently achieved maximum recovery on behalf of those who have been wronged through acts of professional negligence. If your case was negatively impacted by the actions or inaction of your attorney, we invite you to contact our firm to arrange a free consultation. We will carefully assess the matter, address your questions and concerns, and determine whether you have grounds for legal action.
The Elements of Legal Malpractice
Clients trust their attorneys to abide by their ethical and professional responsibility to represent them with competence and integrity. A breach of this good faith may constitute legal malpractice. A professional malpractice suit arises from negligence or intentional wrongdoing in an underlying claim. These acts then cause the attorney’s client to suffer harm, either by denying them the right to take legal action, losing a case, or causing their case to diminish significantly in value.
Three basic elements that must be shown in a legal malpractice case.
- Attorney-Client Relationship – The first element involves the relationship between the attorney and the client. The plaintiff must show that a lawyer agreed to provide legal advice or assistance. This is what is known as an “attorney-client relationship.” It is typically confirmed by a written contract or agreement but can also be implied by the attorney’s actions and, in some cases, if a client had a reasonable belief a relationship existed. This relationship shows the attorney had a duty to their client to exercise a certain standard of care and to act in the client’s best interests.
- Breach of Duty to the Client – To bring a successful legal malpractice claim, the plaintiff and their attorney must show the attorney breached their duty to the plaintiff. In other words, the attorney failed to act reasonably or responsibly on behalf of their client. Examples include accepting a settlement offer without their client’s consent, failing to fully investigate their client’s case, and missing a crucial legal deadline.
- Damages – Lastly, it must be shown that the attorney’s actions were a direct cause of harm or loss to the plaintiff. Typically, this is evident when a client loses a substantial settlement amount or loses the case and is ordered to pay out a large sum of money.
Examples of Legal Malpractice
For over 30 years, our team of leading legal malpractice attorneys has helped legal malpractice victims get the justice they deserve. We have seen great success in handling Ohio legal malpractice cases involving a wide range of circumstances, including:
- Missing a crucial deadline – The most common missed deadline relates to the case’s statute of limitations. The law limits the time a person has to take legal action. If the deadline is missed, the client forever loses their right to file a lawsuit.
- Taking legal action without a client’s consent – Although they hire an attorney to represent them in a legal matter, a client still retains the right to consent to settlements, waive criminal jury trials, agree to plea deals, and testify in court. When attorneys act without their client’s verbal or written consent, they have committed legal malpractice and can be held liable for the client’s damages.
- Breaching the attorney-client privilege – The attorney-client privilege is a rule that preserves the confidentiality of all communications between a client and their attorney. The purpose of the attorney-client privilege is to promote open and honest communication between lawyers and their clients. An attorney must know all relevant information of the case, which means the client must be comfortable disclosing this information in confidence. When an attorney reveals verbal or written communication without the client’s consent, there may be grounds for a legal malpractice action.
- Misuse of client funds – When an attorney mishandles a client’s funds, it is a clear breach of a lawyer’s duty to their client. Common examples of the misuse of client funds include combining client funds with their own, borrowing or stealing funds from a client, and using a client’s funds for an unintended purpose.
- Inadequate discovery – A client can take legal action against their attorney if he or she fails to properly investigate and uncover essential details or evidence supporting their case. Not performing a thorough investigation can lead to failing to discover a key eyewitness or failing to find substantial financial assets of a spouse in a divorce case.
- Conflict of interest – If your lawyer breaks the conflict of interest standards, it will likely qualify as legal malpractice. In these cases, an attorney puts their interests above their client’s or puts one client’s interests ahead of another. Conflicts of interest include providing counsel to multiple clients in the same matter, representing opposing parties, and having a personal relationship with a member of the opposing party.
If you feel your attorney engaged in any of these examples above or in any way adversely affected the outcome of your case, we strongly recommend contacting a skilled Cleveland legal malpractice lawyer at Slater & Zurz. We will assess every aspect of your situation and determine if your attorney’s actions constitute malpractice. If so, it may likely warrant taking legal action against them.
Limit for Taking Legal Action
In Ohio, there is a statute of limitations or time limit for taking legal action in a legal malpractice case. A person has one year to initiate a suit after he or she discovers or should have reasonably discovered the malpractice occurred. Because of the complex nature of these cases, a victim needs to consult with an experienced legal malpractice attorney right away to ensure they will not be denied the right to take legal action against the responsible party.
According to the American Bar Association, an attorney cannot reveal confidential information relating to his or her client unless the client gives informed consent. However, there are some exceptions. An attorney can disclose information to prevent:
- Substantial bodily harm or death
- The client from committing or attempting to commit a crime or fraud
- Significant financial losses of another caused by their client’s commission of a crime or fraud
Under other circumstances, an attorney can reveal confidential information to comply with a court order or seek legal advice in regards to the above rules.
Cleveland Legal Malpractice Attorneys
Our justice system is based on accountability. Those in the legal profession are bound by professional codes of ethics and conduct to represent their clients adequately and competently. When a lawyer fails to act as a reasonable attorney would under similar circumstances and causes harm to their client or their case, their actions or inaction are likely considered legal malpractice.
Often attorneys avoid acknowledging the mistakes they have made. Therefore, if you feel your previous attorney’s conduct has harmed you, it is best to consult with an attorney with extensive experience handling legal malpractice cases. Our seasoned Cleveland legal malpractice attorneys at Slater & Zurz believe that every client who has fallen victim to acts of legal malpractice should receive justice. We will fight diligently for your rights and hold attorneys and their law firms accountable for the negligent or intentional wrongs they have committed. If you feel your lawyer improperly handled your case, contact us today to arrange a free consultation with one of our qualified legal malpractice lawyers. You can reach our office by calling 888.534.4850 or contacting us online.