Can I sue my divorce lawyer?
Divorce lawyers have a tough job. They are basically trying to make the best out of the worst situations. Of course, sometimes lawyers drop the ball and make a professional mistake. Sometimes the client’s expectations are simply unreasonable. Whatever the case, we receive many calls from people wanting to sue their divorce lawyers. The primary motivating factor behind a client wanting to sue a divorce lawyer is the payment of fees by the client which the client believes was unreasonable or unnecessary. Can you sue a divorce lawyer for legal malpractice?
You can sue your divorce lawyer, but . . .
Divorce and family law in general can be difficult areas for legal malpractice claims. This is because in most situations, the custody, child support, or alimony arrangements can be modified again by the court. So, if you’re unhappy with your lawyer or you believe the lawyer has made a mistake, you should get a second opinion, or hire another lawyer. Chances are that the new domestic lawyer may be able to fix the problem. If that’s the case, then there is probably no legal malpractice claim. Why? Because there would be no damages caused by the first domestic lawyer’s alleged mistake.
Even if the mistake can be remedied by a second lawyer, you may still have a claim for the expenses and attorney’s fees which could have been avoided if the first lawyer had not made the mistake. But, lawyer malpractice insurance policies usually don’t cover claims for attorney’s fees only.
We often counsel clients who call wanting to sue their lawyers to hire another domestic lawyer. Or, at least, consult with one. The new attorney should be able to determine if something is not modifiable or fixable. And a new lawyer can help you determine whether the first lawyer may have breached a fiduciary duty, such as the duties of candor, loyalty, and zeal. Fiduciary duties are distinct from the lawyer’s legal duties owed to the client. Importantly, breaches of fiduciary duties carry their own distinct damages.
If it can’t be fixed, you might have a recoverable claim for legal malpractice.
If the new divorce lawyer determines that something cannot be fixed or modified, you may have a claim to discuss. Compensatory damages would be the value of the mistake caused by the lawyer. In the family law context, this could be something hard to define or quantify. Ideally, you want to be able show damages in terms of hard numbers in dollars and cents. And although the insurance policy may not cover fees, you could still bring a claim for fees paid for services that had to be corrected by another lawyer.
If an issue can be modified, any malpractice attorney will recommend that the client contact another divorce lawyer first to try to fix the problem and mitigate the damage. So, before you call a legal malpractice firm, it may be quicker, and easier, to talk to another domestic lawyer, first. If you would like to discuss your particular situation, please feel free to contact Chandler Law.