What Duty Does a Lawyer Owe a Client?
A LAWYER’S DUTY OF CARE TO THE CLIENT HAS SEVERAL PRIMARY ELEMENTS.
Under California law, lawyers have a duty to use reasonable diligence in representing clients.
Attorneys also have a duty to exercise their best professional judgment when practicing law, and to use the same degree of skill and care that reputable attorneys would use under similar circumstances. This standard is measured according to the skill and knowledge used by reasonable (and reputable) attorneys practicing in the area of law the lawyer is actually practicing when the alleged malpractice occurred.
Attorneys practicing outside their normal practice areas are still judged by the standard of reasonable lawyers in the area of law at issue.
A lawyer’s failure to act in accordance with this legal duty, under circumstances which result in harm to a client (or, in some cases, a non-client with standing to bring a claim) is professional negligence (malpractice).
A LAWYER WHO LOSES A CASE HAS NOT NECESSARILY COMMITTED MALPRACTICE.
Attorneys are not required to win every case they take on, to ensure a client’s success, or to warrant or guarantee any particular result to a client (or to anyone else).
Lawyers are also not legally obligated to practice law without ever making a mistake of law or judgment. Not all mistakes or errors in judgment committed by an attorney constitute malpractice.
Instead, the law gives lawyers a wide range when making judgments about the law and the best way to handle a client’s legal case or situation. This is necessary, because otherwise lawyers would not be able to represent clients zealously. More importantly, overly strict legal judgments about malpractice would force attorneys to choose between practicing law beneath a constant threat of malpractice claims and deciding to leave the procession altogether.
For this reason, honest, reasonable mistakes of law or judgment generally do not constitute malpractice.
That said, attorneys are held to a high standard of care, skill, and professionalism, and clients should not attempt to evaluate potential claims against an attorney without professional assistance. Do not attempt to evaluate your legal claims on your own. Always consult an attorney promptly if you believe you have a legal claim against an attorney or another public or private defendant.
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.