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Understanding How Legal Malpractice Works

Legal malpractice is often misunderstood. Losing your court case isn’t necessarily grounds to sue your attorney. There are several elements to prove in a lawyer malpractice lawsuit.

Seattle attorney Shane Carew answers some common questions about legal malpractice in Washington state. To discuss your specific situation, call the Carew Law Office at 206-536-3043.

Malpractice Questions And Answers

What is legal malpractice?

In a nutshell, legal malpractice occurs when an attorney’s negligence or misconduct causes financial harm to the client such as losing a lawsuit. The grounds for legal malpractice might include missing a deadline, failing to understand the law, a conflict of interest or misuse of client funds.

How do I prepare to file a legal malpractice suit?

For starters, you should find a lawyer who is experienced in legal malpractice litigation. That lawyer will know how to investigate and strategize your case. They will work closely with you to establish the key elements that must be proved in a malpractice lawsuit: duty of care, breach of duty, causation and damages. You can help by gathering all documents, emails, texts and voicemails exchanged with your prior attorney and by writing down your recollections of all conversations about your case.

How long do I have to file a lawsuit for legal malpractice in Washington state?

The statute of limitations is three years from the act of negligence. However, courts will sometimes extend this deadline to the date that the attorney-client relationship ended.

How is legal malpractice resolved?

There are three main possibilities: (a) out-of-court settlement, (b) arbitration or (c) trial litigation. Many legal malpractice cases are resolved through binding arbitration; a special master hears arguments and renders a decision. Your new legal counsel can advise on the most favorable forum for the facts of your case. Damages are typically paid through the attorney’s malpractice insurance (professional liability policy).

How can I prove that my lawyer was negligent?

The legal profession has a code of ethics and a professional standard of care. Some things are a blatant breach of attorney duty, such as failing to file a lawsuit in time, failing to do the “homework” on your case or settling your case without your permission. Other conduct, such as misapplying the law or pursuing a bad strategy, may or may not constitute negligence. Your malpractice attorney will help you identify conduct that crossed the line into the breach of duty.

How do I document damages related to my lawyer’s mishandling of the underlying case?

To prevail in a malpractice claim, you must prove that you would have won the underlying case. The primary damages would be the expected recovery in the original lawsuit. As that figure is speculative, damages might be based on recoveries in similar cases. If your business was harmed or you were subsequently sued as a direct result of the lawyer’s negligence, you could also recover compensation for those losses or expenses.

What Other Questions Do You Have?

So much depends on the unique facts of your situation. The Carew Law Office handles legal malpractice in the Seattle area and throughout Washington. Get all your questions answered in a consultation. Call 206-536-3043 or contact Shane Carew online.