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Michigan Legal Malpractice Attorneys

Michigan courts protect people who have suffered damages because of mistakes made by their lawyers. Legal malpractice actions help protect the public when members of the legal profession fall short of their duties to their clients and undermine the public’s trust in the legal system. Lawyers examine suspected cases of legal malpractice carefully. This diligence protects those directly harmed by the malpractice and the entire community. 

Just like doctors and hospitals are held responsible when they injure their patients, attorneys and law firms are responsible if they fall short of their professional responsibilities in ways that harm their clients. Experienced Detroit legal malpractice law firms like Sommers Schwartz understand the rules and standards that apply to lawyers in different circumstances. We fight to protect clients whose previous attorneys failed them. 

What Is Legal Malpractice?

The Michigan standard for legal malpractice compares a lawyer’s actions to those that a lawyer “of ordinary learning, judgment, and skill” would have been expected to take in a comparable situation. Michigan does not allow attorneys to promote themselves as “specialists” in an area of law. Still, all lawyers are certified professionals who have completed an accredited course of study and passed one or more bar examinations. They are obligated to keep up to date on the state of the law and understand and abide by current professional ethics rules. 

To determine whether a claim for legal malpractice may exist against an attorney, ask:

Would a lawyer of ordinary learning, judgment, and skill have given this advice, made this decision, or failed to take this action? 

If the answer is “no,” you may be able to pursue a claim for legal malpractice.

Poor Performance Isn’t Always Malpractice

It’s critical to distinguish between lawyers who fail to meet the expected professional standards (which may be malpractice) and those who simply don’t achieve a good outcome for their clients. 

Michigan’s “attorney judgment rule” protects lawyers who act in good faith to support the best interests of their clients – even when they make honest mistakes or bad decisions. Even the best lawyers can miscalculate the importance of a piece of evidence, mishandle settlement negotiations, or make other decisions that disadvantage a client’s position.

Many mistakes wouldn’t rise to the level of legal malpractice if the attorney made a decision in good faith and with a reasonable belief in the legal reasoning. While the law will not second guess an attorney’s judgment decision, that decision must have been reasonable. 

An example of a judgment call might be if the coach of the Detroit Lions decides to run a play on 4th and 1 rather than punt. If the play is unsuccessful, it would be the result of a strategic decision and not malpractice. On the other hand, if the coach made the decision without practicing the play and failed to convert, that would be malpractice. You need a lawyer who is an expert in legal malpractice to determine the difference between a strategy decision that was unsuccessful, which is not malpractice as opposed to actions or inactions that breach the standard of practice and constitute malpractice.       

To prove legal malpractice, a client and their attorney must show the original lawyer’s behavior was more than a mere mistake or wrong choice. They must establish that an ordinarily skilled attorney would not have acted as their lawyer did. 

Certain types of behavior are often cited in legal malpractice claims. These include:

  • Violation of one or more terms of a contract or fee agreement (e.g., overbilling, improperly handling funds, failing to settle liens properly).
  • Agreeing to take you on as a client but never following up or pursuing your case 
  • Providing advice that is contrary to the law, undermines your position, or causes you to make decisions that seriously disadvantage you.  
  • Making a serious legal error while representing you (such as missing the deadline to file a lawsuit or appeal, failing to explore exculpatory evidence, or negligently mishandling critical evidence).

Many other actions or inactions can constitute legal malpractice. Seeking advice if you suspect a lawyer’s actions or inactions harmed you or your business is essential. You do not have to have a signed fee agreement to have a legal malpractice case. If you consulted an attorney for legal advice and that attorney gave you improper legal advice, you have the necessary elements to bring a claim.       

Time Limits for Filing Michigan Legal Malpractice Claims

Michigan sets strict time limits on filing legal malpractice claims. Under the law, a legal malpractice claim must be filed in a Michigan state court within two years of the last date of representation by the lawyer in that legal matter. If you did not discover the case within that two-year period, you have six months from when you knew or should have known of the alleged malpractice to file the case.  

The absolute outer time limit to file a legal malpractice action is six years from the date of the malpractice. 

Although calculating the time limits for filing a legal malpractice claim can be challenging, one thing is clear: There’s no time to waste. 

Elements of a Detroit Legal Malpractice Claim

Malpractice is a form of negligence. In Michigan, the law requires the person filing a negligence claim to prove four elements:

  • Duty. Did the attorney have a duty to represent you? Did the attorney-client relationship exist? If not, what responsibilities, if any, did the attorney have?
  • Breach. If the attorney had a duty, how did the attorney fall short of that duty?
  • Causation. What is the connection between how the attorney fell short of their duty and the harm you suffered? Courts may explore how the damage occurred (the cause in fact) and whether that harm was foreseeable (proximate cause). 
  • Damages. What did you lose due to the harm caused by the attorney’s breach of duty?

Courts generally begin by determining whether an attorney-client relationship exists. An attorney-client relationship typically starts when an attorney agrees to provide advice or services, usually in exchange for a fee. While most lawyers use written fee agreements to mark the start of a relationship, a contract doesn’t have to be in writing for an attorney-client relationship to exist.

It’s often apparent who an attorney’s client is, but this is not always true. For example, if a company hires an attorney, whom does the attorney represent – the company or the individuals that comprise its board of directors? Typically, attorneys hired by companies represent the company rather than the individuals who run it. However, those individuals may be able to bring a claim for breach of fiduciary duty on their own behalf or of legal malpractice on behalf of the company. 

The question of when an attorney-client relationship begins can be complicated. Determining when that relationship ends can also be challenging – and important. Typically, attorney-client relationships end when:

  • The client fires the attorney, hires a new attorney, or otherwise revokes the attorney’s ability to act on the client’s behalf.
  • The court grants an attorney’s motion to withdraw from representation. 
  • The matter for which the client hired the attorney (such as to litigate a case in court or to draft a business contract) ends.

Determining when the relationship ends can affect the time limits for filing a legal malpractice claim. It can be especially difficult in cases where an attorney agrees to take a case but does nothing. 

Recovering Damages in a Legal Malpractice Case

Any legal malpractice claim will also depend on the damages you suffered from the alleged malpractice. You must demonstrate that you have suffered an actual loss because damages in legal malpractice actions are intended to compensate you for the harm rather than punish the wrongdoer. It’s much easier to prove damages in cases involving mishandled client funds and other monetary losses than claims alleging missed deadlines or other lost opportunities.

If you can’t provide evidence of actual damage, there is nothing for the court to remedy, even if the court finds the lawyer fell short of their professional standards. Appropriately valuing your damages can be especially challenging if the alleged malpractice resulted in incarceration or other collateral consequences.

It’s important to work with an experienced lawyer who understands the far-reaching nature of legal malpractice damages and how to demonstrate their full impact on your life or business. An experienced Detroit legal malpractice lawyer can help you ensure you present a complete case to the court and maximize your opportunity for recovery.

Contact the Sommers Schwartz Legal Malpractice Attorneys Today

If you suspect you’ve been harmed by legal malpractice, you may hesitate to work with a lawyer again. You may question whether your next professional relationship with a lawyer will end as badly as the last one. 

Attorneys who focus on helping people injured by legal malpractice do so because they believe strongly in the integrity of the legal profession more than in any one lawyer. Legal malpractice attorneys fight for their clients because they know the only way to prevent future instances of malpractice is to secure justice for those who have already been harmed.

Contact the legal team at Sommers Schwartz, P.C. today to learn more. Our Detroit legal malpractice attorneys will help you understand your legal rights. Contact us today for a free and confidential consultation.

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