What Are “Legal Services” For Purposes of the Statute of Limitations on Legal Malpractice?
THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS FOR LEGAL MALPRACTICE
California Code of Civil Procedure Section 340.6 says that if a lawyer engages in wrongful acts (or omissions) that constitute malpractice, the injured plaintiff generally* must bring a civil action against the lawyer within the earlier of:
- One year after the plaintiff first discovers the facts that constitute malpractice (that is, the wrongful act or omission, or
- Four years after the date the malpractice (the wrongful act or omission) took place, provided that:
- If the time to bring an action based on a written instrument depends upon a future act or event, the time begins to run from the date the act or event occurs
* with some exceptions – consult a lawyer to see if those exceptions may apply to you.
WHAT ACTS AND OMISSIONS ARE COVERED BY THE STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS?
The statute of limitations on attorney conduct in CCP § 340.6(a) applies to wrongful conduct:
- That occurs while a lawyer is performing professional services, which includes:
- rendering legal services
- rendering other services that are covered or governed by a lawyer’s professional obligations
- for example, serving as a trustee, engaging in bookkeeping and accounting services for clients
- rendering services that are a combination of legal and non-legal services, or services in which the legal and non-legal aspects are so intertwined that they cannot be separated.
Claims for breaches of a lawyer’s fiduciary duty may be governed by this statute of limitations, depending on the facts and circumstances surrounding the claim.
Claims relating to the attorney’s fees (fee disputes) may be governed by this statute of limitations, depending on the nature of the dispute.
However, services that are not related to the practice of law are not governed by this statute of limitations. For example, if a lawyer is acting as a caterer and providing food and beverages for a client’s party.
It’s important to note that courts will often dismiss lawsuits that improperly or “artfully” plead the claims to avoid mentioning legal malpractice in order to avoid this statute of limitations. (This happens most often when the plaintiff–or his or her counsel (an action that itself may be actionable legal malpractice)–lets the statute of limitations run out before filing the claim.) Even if an artfully pleaded case makes it to trial, a judge may dismiss it at the pretrial (summary judgment/judgment on the pleadings) phase, once it becomes clear that the true claim relates to professional negligence.
How do you avoid your case being dismissed this way? Consult a lawyer immediately if you think you are the victim of legal malpractice, and be sure to file your claim with the proper court before the statute of limitations runs out.
Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR ROSS LAW AND ANY PERSON. Your legal rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal rights or claims. Consult an experienced attorney promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, potential damages, and the various legal rights and options available to you.
You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Most legal claims (and defenses), as well as legal and court procedures, are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against someone who injured you, a lawyer who represented you in a previous lawsuit, or any other legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your individual rights and claims.