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The Elements of an Attorney Malpractice Claim


The elements of a legal malpractice claim resemble those in a negligence action, and with good reason. Malpractice is also called “professional negligence,” and it arises from an attorney’s breach of a legally-recognized duty owed to a client.

Here are the elements of a cause of action for legal malpractice, all of which the plaintiff must prove (to the relevant standard) in order for the claim to prevail:

  • The attorney’s duty to exercise at least the minimum standard of skill and diligence in representing the client.
  • The attorney’s breach of the duty.
  • Causation–specifically, that the lawyer’s breach of duty was responsible for the resulting damages, under the legally-recognized standards applicable to causation of injury.
  • The plaintiff suffered actual damages as a result.

If the plaintiff cannot prove all of these elements, the claim will fail.



Although the elements of a legal malpractice claim echo those of a negligence cause of action, and most malpractice claims are based on attorney negligence, there are also other ways to prove a lawyer’s malpractice.

For example, an innocent client wrongfully convicted of a criminal offense may bring a malpractice claim against his or her attorney (provided he or she can demonstrate the other elements of legal malpractice). Note, however, that in malpractice cases relating to criminal convictions, the plaintiff must be able to prove that he or she was innocent of the crime.

Some violations of the lawyer’s ethical duty of good faith and/or fiduciary obligations to a client may also amount to malpractice. However, in these situations, as in other malpractice claims, the plaintiff must prove all of the elements of the prima facie case.


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.

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