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Expert Testimony in Legal Malpractice Cases

WHEN IS EXPERT TESTIMONY REQUIRED IN MALPRACTICE CASES?

Generally, expert testimony is not required in legal malpractice cases if the lawyer’s act or omission was so clearly a breach of duty and contrary to accepted standards that a jury (or judge, as trier of fact) does not require expert testimony to find malpractice. Where the lawyer behaved in  a way that was blatant, egregious, or intentionally in conflict with proper conduct, courts and juries don’t need expert testimony to determine that the lawyer breached his or her duty to the client.

However, when the standard or legal duty involved is not common knowledge, the breach was not so egregious as to be clear without the assistance of an expert, or where the lawyer’s breach of duty involved a specialized field of law, judges may allow expert testimony to establish the appropriate standard of care for the jury (or, if appropriate, the judge) to use when evaluating the lawyer’s conduct.

WHAT USE IS EXPERT TESTIMONY IN LEGAL MALPRACTICE CASES?

Expert testimony can be helpful in establishing legal standards of care and attorney behavior, especially in areas where the law and legal practice are specialized or characterized by unusual practice methods. However, expert testimony cannot be used to contradict (or ask the jury not to recognize) the California Rules of Professional Conduct, which govern attorney behavior.

If the appropriate standard of care is not common knowledge, expert testimony is generally considered conclusive proof of the appropriate standard of skill and the propriety of the attorney in question. (Lysick v. Walcom (1968) 258 Cal.App.2d 136)

The decision whether or not to introduce expert testimony in legal malpractice cases depends heavily upon the facts and circumstances of each individual case. The choice to use an expert–or to forego expert testimony–is an important decision that can only be made by the attorney handling an individual legal malpractice case. Neither this, nor any online article or general information source can tell you whether or not expert testimony is required or could be helpful in any specific case or fact situation. Consult an attorney promptly, or discuss the issue with your attorney, if you have a legal malpractice claim against a lawyer who represents you or represented you in the past.

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Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR AND ANY PERSON. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal claims. Speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Malpractice (professional negligence) claims are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against an attorney who represented you, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your personal rights and claims.

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