What does a Legal Malpractice Attorney do?

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

Legal malpractice occurs when a legal professional, such as an attorney, breaches his contract or fails to provide a professional standard of practice. Malpractice lawsuits are generally brought by clients who feel that their former lawyer reneged on their contract or acted negligently or inappropriately during a case. A legal malpractice attorney is a lawyer who specializes in representing either defendants or plaintiffs in legal malpractice lawsuits.

A legal malpractice attorney is a lawyer who specializes in representing either defendants or plaintiffs in legal malpractice lawsuits.
A legal malpractice attorney is a lawyer who specializes in representing either defendants or plaintiffs in legal malpractice lawsuits.

The first job of a legal malpractice attorney is to determine whether a proposed lawsuit is a viable claim. While some cases will have blatant examples of malpractice, others will be more subtle and open to interpretation. When discussing a case with a new client, a legal malpractice attorney will usually look over all documentation and listen carefully to the client's story before determining whether he or she thinks a legal claim does exist.

A surgeon who is negligent during surgery may face charges.
A surgeon who is negligent during surgery may face charges.

Once on a case, a legal malpractice attorney will file a claim in court and build up the evidence to present the case to a judge. Materials that may assist a malpractice attorney include contract documentation, bills from the lawyer to the client, and any email, letters, or notes sent from either party to the other. Depending on the type of case, the attorney may depose witnesses, hire experts to examine the evidence and provide testimony, and communicate with the legal team representing the opposing party.

If a legal malpractice attorney is working for a client suing a lawyer, the case may involve accusations of incompetence, failure to meet standards of practice, negligence, or breach of contract. In a case where the client believes the lawyer was negligent or incompetent, the attorney may build a case that attempts to show that the client would not have lost a legal case or suffered a bad legal decision if the attorney had been competent and attentive. In cases where a client sues for breach of contract, the issue often regards whether the fees charged by the attorney are fair and justified.

Malpractice attorneys representing lawyer defendants may try to build cases that show that their client acted according to professional standards and with due diligence, and that the outcome of a legal decision had little or nothing to do with the lawyer's behavior or skill. For fee-based claims, the attorney will need to show that the fees charged were fairly assessed and disclosed, often relying on expense records and expert witnesses to defend the fees.

Jessica Ellis
Jessica Ellis

With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica is passionate about drama and film. She has many other interests, and enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics in her role as a wiseGEEK writer.

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Discussion Comments

Markerrag

@Logicfest -- that's kind of true. The same lawyer who represents plaintiffs in malpractice suits might also be one who defends attorneys against them. It's like anything else -- you don't typically find attorneys who only represent men in divorce cases, for example. A legal malpractice attorney might take cases from either plaintiffs or defendants.

A notable exception has to do with legal malpractice attorneys who work exclusively for insurance companies. That's a pretty good gig, really. They usually get paid well and are typically viewed in a positive light by other attorneys because they defend lawyers sued for malpractice.

Still, a lot of them who achieved that position started off as representing plaintiffs against their lawyers.

Logicfest

A word of caution for anyone thinking of representing plaintiffs against attorneys in malpractice suits -- those lawyers become hated by members of their own profession in a hurry. That is not a job for the attorneys who want to be popular at the local bar.

That's an odd thing to say but it is very true. The irony here is that most attorneys will agree that even the most hardened, guilty criminal deserves a fair trial. That same logic does not extend to those attorneys who sue other lawyers for malpractice.

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