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Newark Litigation and Appeals Law Blog

Attorney ethics violations can become complex to resolve

All practicing attorneys in New Jersey are subject to the state's Rules of Professional Conduct, which impose high standards of behavior when it comes to their behavior toward the courts, other attorneys and clients. Sometimes these rules are easy to understand and straightforward to apply, such as the fiduciary duty to clients and the responsibility not to misuse client funds. On other occasions, though, application of the rules can involve complicated fact patterns that trigger multiple potential violations of those rules.

Applying the RPC can be difficult if you do not know what they are and how an attorney may have violated them; you may believe that your attorney has committed legal malpractice but be unaware of how it has happened or what rules govern the possible violation. This is why, when you are convinced that your attorney has failed to meet his or her professional obligations toward you or your legal matter, you should consult with a law firm that practices in legal malpractice law and knows what to look for in an attorney's conduct that can serve as grounds for an ethics complaint, a legal malpractice complaint, or both.

What are the main reasons for legal malpractice lawsuits?

In several posts on our blog we have covered claims of legal malpractice against New Jersey attorneys and law firms. Most of the time, such claims -- and the lawsuits that they can lead to -- are based on a well-recognized number of underlying issues between attorney and client. Some of these include:

Missing deadlines. The civil and criminal legal systems are deadline-driven, beginning with the statute of limitations within which to file a lawsuit through the time permitted to effect service of process and to respond to legal complaints and motions. Failing to meet a legal deadline can result in more than embarrassment; it can be fatal to a plaintiff's claim, or can lead to a default judgment against a defendant.

What kind of relationship is created between client and attorney?

When you hire a professional, you create a business relationship. This is true whether you are working with a plumber, hiring someone to mow your lawn, or retaining an attorney. Yet you do not hear of court cases in which a dissatisfied customer sues a plumber for malpractice, but you likely have heard of such cases involving lawyers. 

So what makes the attorney-client relationship different from an ordinary business relationship?

Turning accusations into compensation for legal malpractice

The recently filed lawsuit by a high profile reality television personality against her former attorney for legal malpractice has generated a great deal of finger pointing as both sides toss accusations at each other. Among the accusations made by the client is that errors made by her attorney led to bankruptcy fraud charges against her.

For his part, the attorney has accused his former client of falsifying tax returns and other documents long before he represented her. He also claims that his representation of her had nothing to do with her eventual incarceration.

"What is legal malpractice?" Can be a definitional question

On those occasions when a client does not see the results that he or she was hoping for in a legal matter, or in some cases when the  client believes that the attorney has acted unethically or otherwise improperly (or in other situations failed to act), the recourse can be to initiate an action against the attorney for legal malpractice. Sometimes, though, the question of what actually constitutes legal malpractice can have a strong impact on whether the claim against the attorney is successful.

Consider, for example, a lawsuit against a New Jersey law firm that alleged legal malpractice in connection with a bankruptcy petition that ultimately led to a legal malpractice action against the attorney by the petitioners, who apparently had engaged with the attorney in a fraudulent attempt to file for Chapter 13 bankruptcy instead of Chapter 11. Although that case eventually settled, it was not before the legal malpractice insurer for the attorney had at least indirectly accused him of fraud in connection with the bankruptcy petitioners’ case.

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.

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