When you engage the services of any attorney, he or she is required — from a moral as well as a legal standpoint — to act in your best interests. This is known as a fiduciary duty.
If you come to believe that your lawyer committed a breach of fiduciary duty, this might constitute professional malpractice. A reasonable next step would be for you to discuss your misgivings with a different attorney who is experienced in handling legal malpractice cases.
What is a breach of fiduciary duty?
A malpractice lawsuit for breach of fiduciary duty must establish (a) a specific duty that was owed, (b) a failure to live up to that obligation, and (c) tangible damages that were suffered as a result. If an attorney was rude or deceitful, but won your case, it would not be compensable. But if the attorney failed to pursue your case because of an undisclosed conflict of interest, you might have grounds for monetary damages.
Other examples of a breach of fiduciary duty include misrepresentations or omissions, misappropriation of funds, charging excessive fees, neglecting responsibilities, or misuse of a client’s confidential information.
What was your expectation?
Say you hired an attorney to secure compensation for personal injuries you suffered in a vehicle accident. He told you not to worry, assuring you that the at-fault driver’s insurance company would honor your claim. However, you learn that your attorney accepted a settlement offer without consulting you or obtaining your approval to do so.
Who is being served?
Your attorney had a duty to keep the lines of communication open and to inform you of any new details regarding your claim. Before accepting a settlement, he had an obligation to discuss the offer with you. That did not happen. The settlement turned out to be a much smaller amount than you expected, and you feel the lawyer is more interested in taking care of his own interests than yours. In fact, you suspect that the largest portion of the settlement may have made its way into the lawyer’s bank account.
How should you proceed?
In order to collect any damages, you will have to sue the attorney who committed breach of fiduciary duty. Your new attorney will examine the facts to confirm that you have a case, and if so take your case to court. The law forbids a lawyer, in his fiduciary capacity, from acting in a manner that is contrary to your best interests. If a legal professional has violated your trust, your new attorney will fight to get you compensated for the damages caused by malpractice.