Can I sue my attorney for legal malpractice?
If your lawyer is negligent in his or her representation of you as a client, has breached a fiduciary duty, or breached a contract, then you may have a legal malpractice claim against the lawyer.
To pursue a legal malpractice claim, a client must show that the attorney's acts were not merely the result of poor strategy or judgment, but that the professional work was substandard to that which would be provided by a reasonable attorney.
The legal services were provided in Colorado, do I need to file in Colorado?
Because legal malpractice claims arise from state law, the claim will be pursued in the state where the professional work was performed. Regardless of where you are now, if your legal representation occurred in Colorado, the legal malpractice claim will need to be filed in Colorado.
How long do I have to file a legal malpractice lawsuit?
Lawsuits for legal malpractice in Colorado must be filed within two years of the malpractice; this is the statute of limitations for professional malpractice lawsuits in Colorado. Read more about time limits.
What are the common types of legal malpractice claims?
Each case is unique, but there are circumstances that frequently appear in matters involving legal malpractice:
Conflict of Interest
An attorney has a fiduciary duty to avoid conflicting interest. A conflict of interest arises whenever an attorney's independent judgment on behalf of a client may be affected by a loyalty to another party. There is a potential conflict of interest when an attorney:
- Represents multiple claimants in an aggregate settlement (common when a disaster injures many individuals, all of whom hire the same attorney)
- Represents both sides in a matter where potentially the parties' interests may conflict (i.e. representing both buyer and seller or both parties in a divorce)
- Belongs to a large firm, the likelihood of a connection with potential defendants, or their respective insurance companies, is greater
- Cannot clearly identify who is the client
This final scenario is common in legal malpractice suits arising from estate work and from the creation/representation of new business entities. Examples are: If an attorney drafts a trust for a client, then the personal representative robs the trust following the death of the client, do the named beneficiaries of the trust have a claim against the attorney? Or, an individual approaches his attorney and requests legal services involving the start-up of a corporation with several partners. After incorporating, is the individual, the group of individuals or the corporation the client? The attorney should always be able to clearly identify the client - and should discuss this with all involved parties so there is no confusion over whose interests the attorney is serving.
Additionally, an attorney may have personal interests which conflict with those of the client, such as when the attorney needs money and is willing to settle a case cheap for immediate payment of a contingent fee.
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is a deadline established by statute by which time you must file your lawsuit or be forever barred. For most personal injury matters, this period is two years. Thus, you have two years from the date of your injury, or, more precisely, when you knew or should have known that you had suffered an injury, in which to file your claims. In Colorado, injuries suffered in auto accident cases now enjoy a three year statute of limitations. Calculation of your deadline is usually straight forward, ask your attorney when your statute of limitations period expires and mark it on your calendar. Surprisingly, for something that is so elementary, over 13% of all legal malpractice cases arise for failure on the part of the attorney to file claims in a timely manner.
Legal malpractice cases may also involve neglect of the file by the attorney, failure by the attorney to abide by court orders and discovery requirements, failure to conduct adequate discovery, or improper conduct such as sexual advances by the attorney. If your attorney drastically reduces the valuation of your case without a clear reason, there may be cause for being suspicious of the attorney's motives. Many cases where the attorney has "overlooked" a critical detail are settled quickly before the client is allowed to learn of the attorney's negligence. If you feel you may have a legal malpractice claim against your present attorney, you may wish to pursue a claim even before the underlying litigation, the case the negligent attorney is or was handling, is concluded.
Failure to Communicate
Your claims should never be compromised without your full knowledge or consent—thus a demand for settlement should never be made on your behalf without your full authority. The better practice is for the attorney to prepare an advice letter, providing a professional opinion as to the value of your claims. The advice should also recommend a settlement range and asking your permission for making a specific opening demand. Likewise, a settlement cannot be accepted on your behalf without your approval. You have the final say.
Conversely, your attorney is obligated to inform you of any settlement offers, even if the offer is lower than what you indicated you would accept.You also have the right to be fully informed of the status of your case. Ask questions and insist on answers which you understand—your lawyer has a duty to provide clear explanations that enable you to make informed decisions regarding your case. Lawyers acting in the client’s best interest, especially in personal injury cases, communicate frequently. If months go by without word on your case, investigate what is happening. Litigation is a slow process, but an aggressive attorney usually can progress a case quickly enough to at least require monthly updates.
Fee Agreements and Billing
Colorado law requires that in every case in which the attorney agrees to handle the matter in return for a portion of the recovery, know as a "contingency fee" case, there must be a written fee agreement executed by the attorney and the client. It is the attorney's responsibility to prepare a valid fee agreement. If you have a dispute over fees owed to your attorney, and you have no written fee agreement, you may wish to speak to a malpractice attorney concerning your situation.
During your case, your attorney should provide you with routine, written billing statements—even for contingency fee cases. You should always be informed prior to significant expenditures on expenses for your case. For instance, if your attorney wishes to conduct an out-of-state deposition of a witness, you should be consulted with prior to the arrangement of such a deposition and the benefits to be gained by the deposition discussed. Because you will ultimately be responsible for the expenses invested into your case, regardless of how your lawsuit goes, your attorney should keep you informed and involved with decisions regarding these expenses.
Offering Free Consultations
Call for a free consultation with an experienced lawyer at Chalat Hatten & Banker to discuss your legal malpractice matter, toll-free at 1.800.221.5526.
How we helped a legal malpractice client
Legal Malpractice Arising from Botched Med Mal Claim
ES originally hired two lawyers, HM and MS, to pursue claims for medical negligence on her behalf. Over the course of three years, her lawyers missed deadlines, were unaware of or ignored the specific law...