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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.

Substance abuse. Practicing law can be highly stressful on legal professionals as well as clients. Unfortunately, the response of some attorneys to stress can be to "self-medicate" with alcohol, prescription drug abuse, or illegal drugs. Often other causes of legal malpractice claims -- such as missed deadlines, above -- are symptomatic of the effects of substance abuse.

Conflicts of interest. These can occur if the attorney for some reason is representing both parties in a dispute (for example, both spouses in a divorce matter) or if the attorney has some self-interest in a matter that is in conflict with his or her duty to zealously represent the client's interest.

Substantive legal errors. An attorney who makes a legal mistake that a reasonable attorney in his or her position would not have made can be subject to a claim of malpractice, especially if the effect of the mistake was detrimental to the client's interests.

Mishandling of client funds. A basic ethical principal for attorneys is to carefully manage and to diligently account for client funds placed in their care, as retainers or otherwise. Co-mingling client funds with other monies, or spending client funds on matters not connected to the client's matter are high-risk behaviors that can easily lead to malpractice claims.

The above are not all of the ways in which an attorney can run afoul of a legal malpractice dispute with a client or former client. Anyone who believes that he or she has a potential claim against an attorney for malpractice should consult with a law office that practices in the area of legal malpractice to properly evaluate and where appropriate to pursue such a claim.

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