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Filing a Legal Malpractice Claim In New Jersey

July 31, 2023 Legal Malpractice

When you retain an attorney it is due to your needing assistance with the legal system. Unfortunately, there are times when a lawyer fails to properly perform their duty and it harms the case of their client. When this happens, it is possible to file a legal malpractice case against your former lawyer. Understanding the common types of legal malpractice claims, as well as the steps needed to protect your interests, can be crucial.

This article will discuss the following:

  • Common types of malpractice in civil cases
  • Filing a malpractice claim
  • What to do if you have been the victim of legal malpractice

Each of these topics will be discussed by our Union County legal malpractice lawyer in turn.

Malpractice in Civil Cases

Legal malpractice can arise in a number of contexts involving civil litigation, personal injury claims, as well as probate and probate litigation. Common examples of how lawyers harm their clients include:

Missing a Statute of Limitations

Lawsuits must be filed within a certain amount of time after the complaining party has been wronged. Two examples include personal injury cases which require a lawsuit to be filed within two years of the accident and breach of contract claims which must be filed within six years. If a lawsuit is not filed within these timeframes, then the complaining party will lose the opportunity to sue.

Missing Crucial Deadlines

Cases typically have important deadlines which must be met after a lawsuit is filed. Failing to meet such a deadline can potentially cripple a case. Common examples of missed deadlines can include not filing a Motion or Opposition on time, failing to respond to discovery requests in a timely fashion, not providing a timely list of witnesses, etc. These types of errors can lead to a case being hindered or, worse, dismissed.

Not Sharing a Settlement Offer With the Client

Attorneys are required to share all received settlement offers with their clients. Attorneys sometimes fail to meet this obligation out of sheer negligence. Other times they fail to relay an offer out of their belief that the client will be able to “do better” by waiting. Whatever the reason for failing to share the offer, an attorney may face liability if the client receives less than the non-disclosed potential settlement.

Misappropriating Client Funds

Under no circumstances are attorneys allowed to mix a client’s retainer, settlement proceeds, or other client funds with their own money. It is not uncommon for such mixing of funds to happen. This can occur due to blatant theft by the lawyer or negligent bookkeeping. An attorney can be made to repay all money owed to a client.

Filing a Malpractice Claim Against Your Former Attorney

You may file a legal malpractice claim if you believe that your case was harmed by your attorney’s negligence. In order to recover damages, you will need to show that your attorney breached their professional obligations and that you suffered damages as a result. It is important to understand, however, that disagreeing with your attorney’s strategy or the simple fact that you had a bad outcome will not give you valid grounds to bring a claim. You will need to show that your lawyer’s handling of the case fell below a reasonable standard of practice and their failure to meet such a standard is what caused the bad outcome.

Consider the following example. Joe Client is rear-ended at a stop sign and suffers $100,000 worth of damages. He retains Jack Lawyer, who informs the insurance company that he is representing Joe. Unfortunately, the case slips through the cracks. Jack allows the case to languish in his office for two years and no lawsuit is filed. If Joe can establish that he in fact had a valid claim in his car accident case, then Jack may be liable to him for the amount of $100,000. While the outcome of any malpractice case will depend on the specifics of the matter, this simplified example shows how an attorney may be liable to their former client for damages.

A legal malpractice case must be filed within six years of the time that the malpractice occurred. Once filed, the case will proceed in the same manner as other forms of civil litigation. Quite often, attorneys will carry legal malpractice insurance. If your former attorney has such a policy, then the lawyer handling the malpractice claim on your behalf will deal with the insurance carrier directly. If a settlement cannot be reached with the insurance carrier, then it may be necessary for you and your malpractice lawyer to proceed to litigation against your former counsel.

What To Do If You Have Been the Victim of Legal Malpractice

If you believe that your attorney has mishandled your case, then the first step is to contact their office and obtain a copy of your file. Your former lawyer is required to provide you with the file under the rules of conduct. So, while it is not uncommon for attorneys to attempt to claim that they do not have to provide the client with the file, it is important that you insist on receiving it and that you obtain it. Once you have obtained a copy of your file, it is strongly suggested that you gather and organize all correspondence (including emails and text messages) that you have had with your former attorney. These records, along with any copies of billing statements which you have received, can then be taken to an attorney who handles legal malpractice actions.

Contact Union County Legal Malpractice Attorney Daniel P. Silberstein For Assistance

Cases against attorneys can be difficult to prove and can quickly become complicated. Retaining representation with experience in such matters can be crucial to you prevailing on your claims. Daniel P. Silberstein is a Union County legal malpractice lawyer who understands that you are dealing with a serious situation. He will give your case the attention it deserves. Contact us online or by telephone to schedule an initial consultation. Our office is conveniently located in Union County, New Jersey, and we serve clients in Newark, Elizabeth, and more.