When Are Lawyers Responsible for Other Lawyers’ Malpractice?
As a general rule, lawyers are responsible for their own professional negligence (malpractice) but not for the acts of others. From a policy standpoint, this makes sense: a lawyer should be liable only for his or her own conduct, or for the conduct of those (s)he supervises.
However, there are some circumstances in which a lawyer may have malpractice-based liability for another lawyer’s acts. Here are some examples:
1. Co-counsel or Affiliated Counsel. When lawyers work together on a case, there may be circumstances when all affiliated attorneys are legally responsible for one another’s actions. However, the existence of co-counsel is not a guarantee of shared liability; consult a malpractice specialist if you believe you have a malpractice claim resulting from a situation in which you were represented by more than one attorney.
2. Law Partners (Within a Firm). The partners in a law firm are generally held “vicariously liable” for the malpractice of any other partner in the firm. The law firm is also generally considered liable for the negligence of its employees (both lawyers and non-lawyers) — however, this liability often springs from the doctrine of respondeat superior–employer liability–rather than from the laws relating to legal malpractice.
An Exception: Limited Liability Partnerships. California law protects the partners of a limited liability partnership (also known as an “LLP”) from legal obligations of both the partnership as a whole and every other partner individually. For this reason, the partners in an LLP often cannot be held liable for the malpractice of other partners within the firm.
An Exception: Professional Law Corporations. Partners or shareholders in professional law corporations (another popular model for California law firms) may also be able to avoid liability for the acts of other attorney partners. This is because the corporation’s structure normally prohibits suits against individual shareholders (other than the shareholder/attorney directly responsible for the negligence). However, it is possible to “pierce the veil” and sue the shareholders of a corporation under certain circumstances; always consult a malpractice specialist if you believe you have claims against an attorney or law firm.
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, as may the circumstances in which a lawyer can be held liable for the actions of another person. 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.