Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Social Networking Websites and How They Effect the Legal Profession

In this day and age, the internet not only provides an excellent source for researching, the new social networking sites (like Facebook, Twitter and Myspace) are giving people more opportunities to exchange ideas and information with one another. The question becomes, when lawyers are communicating with prospective clients via these social networking sites, are they in danger of committing legal malpractice?

It is best for lawyers to establish a code of behavior before engaging in communication over these social networking sites. There is an expectation of privacy when information is being exchanged; however, once that information is uploaded onto the internet, it is available for anyone to see. A few of the dangers of posting on Facebook and other social networking sites are the potential to disclose client confidences, the potential to discuss pending matters, and walking the fine line of being informative without turning off clients or followers.
When a lawyer receives a scenario from a potential client and discusses the client’s options, these discussions can be considered legal advice which can also imply a lawyer-client relationship. The best way to avoid any confusion about this lawyer-client relationship is to hold any legal discussions in a more formal manner rather than conducting discussions over social networking sites. If you received improper legal advice over a social networking site, call our office today and discuss your options.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

What is a Statute of Limitations?

A commonly used but maybe not always completely understood legal phrase, statute of limitations, is often the basis for a legal malpractice claim. A statute of limitations places a time limit on pursuing a legal remedy for wrongful conduct. After the statute of limitations expires, the injured party loses the right to file a lawsuit to recover damages. The time limit begins at the time the injury is suffered.

There are different time limits for when an action must be commenced based on the type of case it is. For example, the statute of limitations for a personal injury claim is different than that of a contract claim. Additionally, there are a few reasons for which a statute of limitations may be “tolled”, meaning something has stopped the statute from running for a period of time.

If a person is injured and wants to bring a claim against the responsible party, it must be done within the time set out by the statute of limitations. An attorney’s failure to bring suit within that timeframe can cause the case to be dismissed and essentially, cause the injured party to become a victim for a second time. If the attorney you hired to handle your case missed the statute of limitations, contact our office to discuss your options.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Jilted Bride Sues Ex-Fiance and then Former Friend/Lawyer

There is an interesting case out of Illinois that may have started out as a violation of the Illinois Breach of Promises Act, but it ended in a legal malpractice claim. The case is Wildey v. Paulsen. The Plaintiff in the case was a licensed attorney who decided to sue her ex-fiancé after he broke off their engagement. After receiving the news, Wildey discussed the possibility of bringing suit against her former groom-to-be with her friend and attorney, Paulsen.

Wildey drafted a letter to her ex-fiancĂ© putting him on notice of the fact that she was planning on filing a lawsuit against him, which is a requirement of the Illinois Breach of Promises Act. The only problem with Wildey’s notice was that she failed to include the date of the engagement, which is a necessity under the Act. Neither Wildey nor Paulsen corrected this vital error.

After Wildey sent the notice, she signed a retainer agreement with Paulsen, however, she never paid Paulsen for any work which she had done on the file. The case was removed to federal court, tried before a jury and Wildey received a verdict in the amount of $118,000. This verdict was short lived, as it was appealed and reversed due to the fact that Wildey did not comply with the notice requirement because she left out the engagement date.

After having the verdict overturned, Wildey then filed a legal malpractice lawsuit against Paulsen seeking to recover the verdict which she lost in federal court along with damages for her pain and suffering. Unfortunately for Wildey, the Court determined that under the Act she was only entitled to recover actual damages, not damages for pain and suffering. Therefore, even though the Court determined that an attorney client relationship existed and was breached, Wildey was only able to recover $100 for wedding dress alterations.

This just goes to show that legal malpractice claims can arise out of an underlying case concerning just about anything. Click here to get more information about how our office can help with your legal malpractice action.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

‘Uncharted Waters’ – When Your Lawyer is Acting Outside his Comfort Zone

Many law firms advertise as being ‘general practice’ firms, able to handle a variety of legal issues for their clients. While there is nothing unusual about this, problems may arise when a lawyer or law firm takes on a new matter in a practice area they are unfamiliar with.

This frequently occurs when an existing client has a need for assistance in a new area of law. The attorney, not wanting to lose the client or eager to earn an extra fee, takes on the new matter even though he has no experience in the area of law in question. Being unfamiliar with the new area of law, the attorney is far more likely to make critical mistakes that cost his client.

Just because an attorney hasn’t worked in an area of law before does not mean he is not competent to handle the matter. Attorneys can provide competent representation in a new area through partnering with other lawyers, researching the new area of law, or by devoting additional time to the representation.

Some lawyers, however, do not put forth this additional effort and simply ‘wing it’. Doing so puts their client at great risk, and may be grounds for a legal malpractice claim if the client’s case is compromised. When the lawyer is paid hourly, there is a risk that the client is bearing the cost of the lawyer ‘learning on the job’ through higher fees.

If the lawyer you hired to handle your case is working outside of their area of expertise, and you believe your case has been compromised as a result, call our office today to discuss your potential legal malpractice case and your options for recovery.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Going from Named Partner to First Year Associate (Part 2)

Remember our friend Jim from the deposition, well he has once again agreed to hire Law Firm A and specifically, Attorney Ace, to handle his case. This time, Jim is told to attend a Pretrial conference at the Courthouse. When Jim arrives, he learns that Attorney Ace is not able to make it but that Attorney Newer will be covering the matter.

At the Pretrial conference Attorney Newer advises Jim to take a $2,500 settlement offer because he believes that is the most that Jim will ever recover for his case. Jim is unsure of what to do because when he initially met with Attorney Ace, he was told that his case was worth more in the range of $25,000. Jim wants to take some time to think about the offer but Attorney Newer advises that if he does not give an immediate response, the offer will be withdrawn, no future offers will be made and Jim stands a good chance of not recovering anything at Trial. Attorney Newer again advises that Jim needs to accept the settlement offer. Reluctantly, Jim agrees to settle his case for $2,500.

Now, if Attorney Newer and Attorney Ace discussed the case and found that the facts supported that $2,500 was a fair value for his case, then Jim does not have a legal malpractice case. However, if Attorney Ace truly believed that $25,000 was a more appropriate range for settlement because of an important expert report which had been disclosed, but Attorney Newer overlooked. Then Attorney Newer advised Jim to settle for a much lower figure because of this oversight, Jim might have a legal malpractice case.

If you feel that your case was not properly handled by the attorney you hired to represent you, call our office and speak with one of our experienced attorneys today.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Going from Named Partner to First Year Associate (Part 1)

When a client decides to hire a lawyer to represent him for a case, he selects someone he feels confident in. The client meets with the lawyer for the initial consultation, signs the paperwork and the process begins. The client leaves the meeting with the belief that the lawyer he has just met with will be the lawyer working on his case.

For example, Jim goes to Law Firm A and meets with Attorney Ace. Attorney Ace advises Jim about his case, Jim signs the paperwork to get the action started and they shake hands. The next time Jim hears from Law Firm A, it is to advise him that he has to come to the office for a deposition.

When Jim arrives at his deposition, he expects to see Attorney Ace but instead is told that Attorney New, a young associate with Law Firm A, will be covering his deposition. Surprised by this change, Jim is discouraged but goes along with what Attorney New is advising. Although it may not be good business, it is not legal malpractice to have a case handled by another lawyer in the office without previously advising the client of the change. Often times, scheduling conflicts arise and there is no other option but to have someone else cover the matter.

However, during Jim’s deposition, Attorney New fails to ask critical questions due to his inexperience in that area of law and this causes major issues to come up that lead to Jim’s case being dismissed. Jim could have a legal malpractice case as a result of Attorney New’s errors.

Call our office today to discuss your potential legal malpractice matter.