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Is a Lawyer’s Violation of Ethics Rules Always Malpractice?

The short answer to the question in the title is “No, an attorney’s violation of the California Rules of Professional Conduct (without more) is not always malpractice.”

However, that’s not the end of the story. A lawyer’s violation of the rules of professional conduct may also constitute malpractice, if it involves a breach of a duty to a client resulting in legally recognizable damages. In other words: violation of the ethics rules isn’t an accurate “litmus test” for professional negligence, but it does suggest that the lawyer in question may have engaged in inappropriate conduct–meaning an individual evaluation of the conduct and the applicable laws or professional standards is required to determine whether professional negligence (malpractice) was involved.

The California Rules of Professional Conduct were not intended to create new civil causes of action against attorneys. Instead, the legislative intent behind their adoption was to create a set of standards to govern attorney conduct and attorney discipline by the Bar Association. Violation of these ethics rules does not make the attorney liable for damages (to the client or others) and although a violation may have evidentiary value in a malpractice suit against the lawyer, the violation is not determinative.

Where the malpractice action alleges a breach of fiduciary duty, or other similar claims for which applicable laws and the rules of professional conduct establish the specifics of the duty the lawyer owes to his or her client, violation of the rules does have evidentiary weight–sometimes, significantly so. However, even in such cases, the plaintiff will normally need to establish the applicable standard of care through the use of expert testimony. The expert may reference the ethics rules, along with other applicable and relevant standards.

Establishing an attorney’s breach of duty to a client requires a technical legal analysis as well as examination of the relevant facts and circumstances. If you believe an attorney mis-handled your case, or gave you negligent advice, contact an experienced malpractice attorney promptly for an individual evaluation of your potential claims. Whether you call our office, or obtain an evaluation elsewhere, do not attempt to analyze your legal rights without professional aid. 

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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. Legal claims against lawyers or other third parties are a complicated topic. If you believe you have a claim against an attorney who failed to provide you with competent representation, or any other type of legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your possible rights and claims.

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