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Who Can Sue a Lawyer for Malpractice?


In California, the general rule is that privity of contract (i.e., a contractual relationship) is a required element of standing to bring a malpractice claim. Put another way, only clients (generally, former clients) can usually bring malpractice claims against lawyers in California.

The necessary privity of contract arises from the attorney-client relationship (and the related retainer agreement). It’s important to note that an attorney-client relationship is a contractual relationship even if there is no written retainer agreement–although generally the existence of an attorney-client relationship, and the scope of representation, should be documented in writing.

Persons and entities that do not have a contractual relationship with the lawyer (generally speaking, those who are not clients or former clients) generally do not have standing to bring a professional negligence claim. More simply: in most cases, non-clients cannot sue a lawyer for malpractice.


The law creates exceptions to the general rule in the following cases, where persons or entities that were not clients of a lawyer  may still be able to bring a claim against (or sue) the lawyer for malpractice:

(a) the client’s legal successors in interest (e.g., heirs, conservators, etc.);

(b) successor fiduciaries;

(c) named, intended third-party beneficiaries of the lawyer’s services; and

(d) persons or entities to whom or for whom the risk of harm or damages was a foreseeable consequence of the lawyer’s professional negligence or improper conduct.

If you believe you fall into any of the categories above, or believe you have been harmed by a lawyer’s wrongful acts (or failure to act) contact an experienced malpractice attorney immediately for an assessment of your legal rights. Do not attempt to determine whether or not you have standing to bring a claim on your own–and do not rely on articles you read (including this one) to make decisions about your legal rights. Consult an experienced lawyer as soon as possible and obtain a professional evaluation of your status and potential claims.


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.

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