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Frequently Asked Questions
   
     
What is Legal Malpractice?
  A lawyer commits malpractice when he or she provides services that fail to meet the minimum standard of care of a licensed attorney. Filing a lawsuit against an attorney for malpractice is different than filing a grievance or complaint against the attorney with the state Bar Association.

A lawsuit requires proof that the attorney committed negligence and entitles the successful plaintiff to damages. A grievance with the Bar Association is processed through the Bar's lawyer grievance system and, if valid, may subject the attorney to disciplinary action. Any loss a person suffers as a result of an attorney's actions is not recoverable through the lawyer grievance system.

A plaintiff suing for legal malpractice must show proof, more likely than not, of the following four elements:
  1. An attorney-client relationship;
  2. A duty on the part of the attorney to the client;
  3. A breach of that duty;
  4. As a direct and proximate result of the attorney's negligence, the client has suffered damages.
 
 

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What is Attorney-Client Relationship?
  When a client retains an attorney, an attorney-client relationship is created. An implied attorney-client relationship could arise if the client seeks the advice of an attorney, is given professional advice, and relies on that advice. In many states, an attorney owes a duty to non-clients whom the attorney knows will rely on the services rendered and for whom the services were intended to benefit. For example, under Washington law, a beneficiary to a will can bring a lawsuit against an attorney who improperly prepared or executed a client's will, resulting in the will being held invalid.

In most circumstances you may not sue another party's litigation attorney for legal malpractice, however, you may still be able to file a Bar Association grievance against him or her.
 
 

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What is Duty of Care?  
  In general, an attorney must exercise the same legal skill as a reasonably competent attorney. He or she must use reasonable care in determining and implementing a strategy to be followed to achieve the client's legal goals. As the client's fiduciary, an attorney must treat as confidential all information relating to the client's representation and to diligently represent the client's interests. This duty also requires the attorney to disclose any conflicts of interest that might impair the attorney's ability to represent the client.  
 

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What is Breach of Duty of Care?  
  An attorney breaches his or her professional duty of care if he or she fails to provide reasonably competent representation or violates his or her fiduciary obligations. Proving an attorney failed to provide reasonably competent representation can be difficult. The law in many states, including Washington, generally requires testimony from another attorney in the same or similar field of practice to testify that the lawyer's actions were below the minimum standard of care. Lawyers can disagree on whether a particular course of action is reasonably competent. Whether an alternative course of action would have provided a better result, often requires a trial.  
 

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What is Proximate Cause/Damage?  
  A client must prove that an attorney's breach of duty caused some damage. To do this, the client (now the plaintiff), must show that the damage is sufficiently related to the attorney's breach of duty as to be the proximate cause. This may require the plaintiff to show what would have happened if the attorney had chosen a different course of action. The defendant attorney often argues that the damages or injury would have happened anyway, regardless of the actions or inaction of the attorney. Just because a client suffers injury or damage as a result of an attorney's representation does not mean the attorney committed malpractice. The attorney may have acted in the same manner as any reasonably competent attorney would have acted. While his or her actions may have caused the harm, if the attorney did not breach the duty of care, he or she should not be held liable. This element of legal malpractice is often the most difficult for a client to prove.  
 

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What is Statute of Limitations?  
  There is a limit on how long you can wait to file a lawsuit for legal malpractice. That limit is called the Statute of Limitations and it varies from state to state. Failure to commence the lawsuit within that limited period of time can provide a negligent lawyer with an absolute defense to your claim. Because of the harshness of statute, courts have carved out some exceptions. For example, in Washington the statute of limitations for attorney malpractice is ordinarily three years from the act of negligence. RCW 4.16.080(3). But, the Courts have also said that if the lawyer continues to represent the client on the same matter, that in some instances the statute won’t commence to run until the representation on that matter comes to an end. The Court was clear on that, saying “the rule does not toll the statute of limitations until the end of the attorney-client relationship, but only during the lawyer's representation of the client in the same matter from which the malpractice claim arose.” Janicki Logging v. Schwabe, Williamson, 109 Wn. App. 655, 663-64, 37 P.3d 309, 315 (2001), rev. denied, 146 Wn.2d 1019 (2002).

Another exception to the Statute of Limitations is the “discovery rule.” It provides that the statute of limitations does not start to run on an attorney malpractice claim until the client “discovers, or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have discovered the facts which give rise to his or her cause of action.” Peters v. Simmons, 87 Wn.2d 400, 406, 552 P.2d 1053 (1976). The facts supporting each of the essential elements of the legal malpractice claim, – duty, breach, causation, and damages--must be known before the statute begins to run. See Ohler v. Tacoma Gen. Hosp., 92 Wn.2d 507, 598 P.2d 1358 (1979).

As you can see, the issue can become very technical and often requires professional advice to determine. For a non-lawyer approaching the question of statute of limitations, the take-a-way is that you cannot afford to sleep on your rights. If you think you may have a claim, you should seek a professional consultation right away before it slips away.
 
 

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What is Our Fee Structure?  
  Clients retain us under a variety of fee arrangements. We prepare a written Retainer Agreement, which we and the client(s) both sign. The client receives a copy of the fully-signed Retainer Agreement.

Some clients hire us based upon a "contingent fee" agreement, under which the client only pays a fee if we achieve a recovery for the client. The ethics rules that govern lawyers specifically authorize such agreements in certain kinds of cases. Many clients can only afford to hire a lawyer due to the opportunity allowed by contingent fee agreements.

Others of our clients retain us based upon an hourly fee (plus expenses) Retainer Agreement. We will always discuss the terms of our retention with you prior to undertaking your representation.
 
 

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Should I contact a Legal Malpractice Lawyer?  
  My practice focuses on recovering for plaintiffs in legal malpractice and other professional negligence cases. From the outset, we seek to build a collegial client-attorney relationship. We depend on a client's information and input as we assess any potential representation.

A lawsuit should never be taken lightly. Insurance companies and very capable opposing counsel offer a spirited defense. Many details of your life may come into evidence should your case go to trial. Of course, no one can state with certainty what a particular jury may decide. Recognition of these factors is important.

This website is designed to help you determine an approximation of the financial losses caused by what you believe to be negligence in your particular case. This website also explains the four elements necessary to prove most legal malpractice cases.
 
 

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