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Newark Litigation and Appeals Law Blog

Helping New Jersey legal malpractice victims obtain compensation

If you live or work in Essex County, New Jersey, chances are that the only time you will consult with an attorney is when your legal rights and interests are in jeopardy, and you need advice and representation to protect them. Lawyers are held to high standards by their profession and by the public. 

When you are injured by your lawyer’s fraud or legal malpractice, you need to be able to place your trust in an attorney who will fight for you to make things right. At the Andrew Rubin, Esq. law firm, we work hard to earn your trust by aggressively pursuing a fair and just result on your behalf. 

How appellate courts handle disputes between individuals

When disputes between individuals cannot be resolved, the parties frequently find themselves battling in court. Most people are familiar with criminal courts and criminal trials from seeing them depicted on television and in the movies.

Cases involving torts, family law and other civil matters are heard in the civil courts located throughout New Jersey. If a civil lawsuit does not get settled, it will proceed to trial. During the trial, each side in the dispute will present evidence in support of its position. The judge or jurors will decide which of the parties should win based upon the strength of the evidence.

What can you do if your lawyer does not zealously represent you?

No matter what the profession, it is unlikely that you will ever see a uniform quality among those who practice it. Just as there are top-tier doctors and accountants, for example, there are also those who can make you stop wondering where the saying, "buyer beware" originated. Particularly for occupations that require a high degree of education or training to perform effectively, one way to try to assure at least a minimum level of competence is through licensing standards. But even that is no guarantee of high quality.

Physicians are subject to licensing requirements before they can practice medicine, but that has not eliminated the phenomenon of medical malpractice. The same is true for attorneys: just because someone has passed the New Jersey bar examination does not preclude the possibility that he or she will not practice law to the standard of care and competence necessary to adequately represent clients in this state.

Attorney convicted in New Jersey for mail fraud

The proper handling of client funds is one of the central ethical responsibilities for any attorney. Intermingling of client monies with personal accounts, or misuse or misappropriation of client funds is one of the surest ways for at attorney to face ethical disciplinary measures up to and including disbarment. The more serious of these misdeeds can also result in criminal charges.

An example of the latter of these two possibilities has come to light recently in the conviction of an attorney in a federal court in Newark for multiple counts of mail fraud. The attorney, who practiced immigration law, was responsible for placing advertisements for firm clients that employed foreign workers. The advertisements were required under federal law so that permanent resident aliens living in the same area as the foreign workers would have an opportunity to apply for those positions. The attorney was entrusted with more than $500,000 of client funds to place those advertisements.

Social media becomes arena for legal malpractice accusation

Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter are well known as places to meet friends, make acquaintances and even to try to make money. The New Jersey Supreme Court has recently taken up a case in which two attorneys have allegedly used a social media site to expand the frontiers of unethical legal practices.

It is common practice among attorneys that once an individual has retained legal counsel, they are no longer free to communicate directly with that person, including communication by anyone under their direction such as a paralegal. Yet this behavior, among others, is what the attorneys in question have been accused of doing – virtually, and indirectly.

Common legal malpractice claims

An attorney commits legal malpractice when he or she fails to comply with the state's code of ethics, or rules of professional conduct. In New Jersey, there are over 50 rules of professional conduct. This means that an attorney can commit legal malpractice in a variety of ways. Some claims of legal malpractice are more common than others.

The most common legal malpractice complaint is that an attorney failed to know or apply relevant law to the client’s case. Under the New Jersey rules of professional conduct, every attorney is required to provide competent and skillful representation. In order to be competent, an attorney must be knowledgeable and thorough when representing a client. The attorney must also take reasonable steps to become competent in any area of law with which he or she not familiar. If an attorney fails to act competently and the client is harmed in some way by the attorney’s negligence, the client may have a legal malpractice claim. 

Basic elements of a legal malpractice case

Although you may believe that your attorney’s failure to know the law was the reason your case was thrown out of court, proving that your lawyer committed legal malpractice might not be a sure thing. Proving malpractice against an attorney is difficult. Even cases in which a lawyer’s missing a deadline/violating a statute of limitations left you unable to pursue a civil claim against another party might not be legal malpractice.

The difficult part of a legal malpractice case is proving that the harm you suffered was the result of your attorney's failure to perform up to the standards expected of members of the profession. This usually imposes a burden on you to prove that you would have won your case were it not for the negligence of the attorney.

When is missing a filing deadline not legal malpractice?

For an attorney, missing the legal claim filing deadline imposed by an applicable statute of limitations is an easy way not only to jeopardize the client's case but also to find himself involved in another lawsuit -- this one as a defendant in a legal malpractice action. If the circumstances of missing a filing deadline indicate negligence or inattentiveness on the part of the lawyer, New Jersey courts can be harsh in holding him to account.

But what if the reason why the attorney missed a filing deadline was due to illness? Is that an extenuating circumstance that would not only allow for more time to file, but also avoid the risk of a malpractice claim? That is the question that a New Jersey appeals court recently considered when an attorney failed to timely file his client's lawsuit because of a recurrence of cancer that eventually killed him.

How does witness preparation differ from witness coaching?

There is an axiom among trial attorneys that "You should never ask a witness a question that you don't already know the answer to." Effective witness preparation is one of the keys to effective case presentation and to jury persuasion. But sometimes preparing a friendly witness before the trial can run the risk of becoming too much of a good thing. Witness preparation is one matter; witness coaching, on the other hand, is unethical.

The problem with witness coaching is that it may encourage a witness to provide the answers that the examining attorney desires, regardless of whether those answers are completely accurate or even true. If this becomes the case, then instead of helping to inform the jury the testimony of the witness may serve to confuse or even to deceive.

Voluntarily inactive lawyer found to have been acting as attorney

An attorney in New Jersey can choose to go on voluntary inactive status with regard to his or her law license. Having done so, it is an assumption that the inactive attorney will not serve in the capacity of attorney for others, but in a recent Bergen County case this appears to have been what happened when an inactive lawyer became involved first as an advisor and later as an investor in a commercial real estate transaction that ultimately led to litigation against her and which may spread to other attorneys before it is ultimately concluded.

The inactive attorney became involved in the transaction when she was contracted by a married couple who were attempting to help structure a multi-million dollar commercial real estate purchase. She eventually became in investor herself in the planned purchase, but the basis of her compensation was never made clear. That was when things began to go wrong.

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