Frequently Asked Questions About Legal Malpractice

If you feel that a former lawyer let you down, you may be left with lingering questions – especially if their representation raised red flags. Though you may not understand the technicalities, you might have reason to believe your lawyer mishandled your case, whether through neglect, incompetence, intentional wrongdoing or otherwise.

These situations raise numerous questions. Below you'll find general information regarding common questions about legal malpractice claims. However, keep in mind that every situation is different, and that these claims are highly complex. At Ball & Bonholtzer, a Pasadena-based law firm, we would be happy to discuss your concerns during a free, no-obligation consultation.

What Counts As Legal Malpractice?

Even great lawyers can lose cases, and losing is not grounds for a legal malpractice suit. However, incompetent or malicious representation can give rise to a malpractice claim if you suffered losses as a result. Examples include:

  • Neglect, such as insufficiently investigating the case, letting the statute of limitations expire or failing to consult with appropriate experts
  • Intentional wrongdoing such as committing fraud, mishandling a client's money/breach of fiduciary duty, libeling a client or violating someone's civil rights
  • Conflict of interest issues such as failing to disclose a conflict or representing two opposing parties at the same time
  • Administrative mistakes such as errors in legal documentation
  • Substantive mistakes involving lack of sufficient legal knowledge or failure to conduct appropriate research

Any breach of the lawyer's duty of care – that is, the standards he or she should have followed in handling your case – can amount to professional negligence.

What elements do I have to prove?

To raise a successful claim in California, you must prove that:

  1. An attorney-client relationship existed – that is, your lawyer was representing you, giving you legal advice or providing you with legal services, regardless of whether you had a formal agreement in place.
  2. Your lawyer committed malpractice (negligence) by failing to uphold their professional standard of care. Establishing this element may require the testimony of an expert witness.
  3. You suffered substantial and quantifiable harm as a result, whether to your rights, finances, reputation or otherwise.

Depending on the underlying case, you may have to establish the value of your lost claim – which essentially requires trying the case your lawyer should have tried, in order to quantify the amount of your loss. For this reason, strong trial skills are critical in these cases.

What can I recover?

Victims of legal malpractice are entitled to recover compensation in an amount that "makes them whole" – that is, an amount that covers their losses and returns them to the position they should have been in, absent their lawyer's negligence.

The amount of damages depends on the nature of your claim. If your lawyer cost you the opportunity to pursue a valuable case – for example, by missing the statute of limitations in a personal injury claim – you may be entitled to recover the amount you likely would have received. If your lawyer botched a real estate or business transaction, you may be entitled to the value of the property or business interests you lost as a result. Certain claims may also allow you to recover attorney's fees.

In rare cases, where the lawyer acted maliciously or fraudulently, victims may be entitled to pursue additional compensation for emotional distress and punitive damages.

How do I get started?

The first step is to call our firm at 626-817-6453 or contact us online for a free consultation. Our lawyers will help you determine whether you have a claim. We are happy to meet with you at a time that's convenient for you, even on evenings or weekends.