Attorneys And The Duty Of Care
Doctors take an oath to “help or do no harm.” The legal profession has its own set of baseline ethics, including a paramount duty to the best interests of the client. This obligation is known as the duty of care.
A lawsuit for legal malpractice requires evidence that the attorney failed to meet the minimum standard of that duty of care. This could be self-serving actions by the lawyer. It could be sloppy legal work. It becomes malpractice when the breach of duty directly harms the client’s case or otherwise causes financial loss. But “standard of care” is a gray area. Proving that the attorney’s action or inaction crossed the line is one of the biggest barriers when suing for professional negligence.
What Is The ‘Standard Of Care’?
The attorney’s duty of care is the first of the four elements of a malpractice case. Once an attorney-client relationship is established, the attorney has an ethical and legal obligation to the client. If the attorney’s actions (or inaction) are contradictory to the client’s interests, it may constitute professional negligence or malfeasance.
The tricky part is proving that the conduct fell below the standard of care and had an adverse effect on the client’s case. Examples of a breach of the standard of care might include:
- Failing to file a lawsuit before the statute of limitations expires
- Depositing client funds into the lawyer’s personal account
- Violating attorney-client privilege
- Misrepresenting one’s credentials or past results
- Failing to perform basic research and preparation
Sometimes the conduct is a clear breach of ethics and professional standards. Other times, it’s a clerical mistake or ill-advised strategy. The bottom line is not “wrongdoing” or intent but whether the conduct fell short of the standard of care and whether it had any bearing on the outcome (no harm, no foul).
An Experienced Litigator Who Knows Where The Lines Are Drawn
Shane Carew has practiced law in Washington state since 1980. He has litigated hundreds of cases, including trials and appeals that are cited in other reported cases. With four decades of experience and a sterling reputation for ethical practice, he is well-qualified to analyze your malpractice case and advocate for you in holding an attorney accountable for substandard representation.