The Attorney’s Duty of Care
LAWYERS OWE THEIR CLIENTS A “DUTY OF CARE”
Licensed attorneys must possess and exercise the general degree of learning and skill common to other lawyers in their geographical area and practicing similar areas of law. Attorneys also need to use reasonable “best judgment” when acting on behalf of clients.
While the failure to act in accordance with this duty may rise to the level of negligence (malpractice), the attorney’s duty of care does not require the lawyer to act infallibly, or to ensure the client victory in any given case. Attorneys are not guarantors of the client’s success, or liable for every error made in the course of practice.
The attorney’s duty involves understanding the ordinary principles of law, as generally known by practicing lawyers, and to discover laws, rules, and principles which standard research techniques would reveal. Although it is the attorney’s job to know the law, he or she need not be infallible in practicing it–the lawyer merely has to exhibit a reasonable degree of judgment and skill, and to utilize those skills on the client’s behalf.
WHAT SORTS OF MISTAKES ARE NOT MALPRACTICE?
As mentioned above, the attorney’s duty to exercise reasonable care and best judgment when representing clients does not mean that an error–even an error in judgment–constitutes malpractice. Though unfortunate, the following are not generally considered malpractice:
— Unsuccessful outcomes (meaning, the client does not prevail in the relevant case).
— Tactical choices (even when they lead to unsuccessful outcomes).
— Honest, reasonable mistakes of law (again, even if the client loses the case).
Generally speaking, attorneys have broad abilities to exercise their skills on a client’s behalf, and a choice –even a choice which leads to or contributes to the client’s loss–is not necessarily malpractice if the choice itself was an “informed tactical choice within the range of reasonable competence.” (Barner v. Leeds (2000) 23 C. 4th 676, 690).
Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an article like 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 are a complicated topic. Articles like this touch only on basic issues.
If you believe you have a claim against an attorney who failed to provide you with competent representation, consult an experienced malpractice lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your possible rights and claims.