The practice of law is demanding. It requires daily focus, meticulous attention to detail as well as sound systems and processes to keep things from falling through the cracks. Often a simple mistake, such as forgetting to calendar a deadline, can have dramatic consequences for a client.
Legal malpractice cases are difficult cases. It is not enough to demonstrate that the lawyer made a mistake which prevented you from bringing your case. It must also be demonstrated that, but for the lawyer’s mistake, you would have won your case. This is often referred to as “the case within the case.” Consequently, not only must it be proven that the lawyer failed to act in accordance with proper legal standards, it must also be proven that had the lawyer acted properly, the case would have been won. This is especially challenging to prove in situations where the initial lawyer sat on the case and did very little. Evidence needed to prove the underlying case may not be available and it may be incredibly challenging to demonstrate what the evidence would have showed had the lawyer acted diligently.
Collectability presents another challenge. Believe it or not, lawyers in Georgia are not required to have malpractice insurance. Many do; however, there may not be enough to cover a legal malpractice case. It is likely that a lawyer who was not diligent in handling your case exercised similar lack of care for many other clients. The Baer Law Firm is familiar with at least one former metro Atlanta automobile accident attorney who has dozens of legal malpractice cases brought against him, and his legal malpractice insurer is dealing with many claims against a limited amount of coverage. In scenarios like this, it is imperative to act quickly contacting a legal malpractice attorney in Atlanta, Georgia before the money runs out.
There are as many types of legal malpractice cases as there are specialties of law. The Baer Law Firm commonly sees four types.
Missed Statute of Limitation
Statute of limitations is the time period in which suit must be filed after experiencing harm. When a lawyer takes a case but then fails to file suit within the applicable time frame, the statute is missed, and the case is forever barred. In most all Georgia personal injury cases, the statute of limitations is two years from the date of the injury. However, some cases, such as those involving government entities, have shorter time periods for sending out notices which must be complied with precisely. Sometimes attorneys lack the knowledge regarding certain deadlines. More often, attorneys fail to calendar deadlines, simply miss deadlines or ignore them due to a variety of reasons: too many cases, poor processes and systems or even substance abuse issues. Regardless of the reason, the outcome is the same. The underlying case is time barred and the client’s only recourse is a malpractice action against the lawyer.
Conflict of Interest
Attorneys owe a duty of loyalty to their clients. Attorneys cannot represent one person to the detriment of another. Often, conflicts of interest are not initially apparent and are revealed later as additional facts are discovered. As soon as a conflict arises, attorneys have an obligation to disclose the conflict to the client. Clients may choose to waive a minor conflict after the nature of the conflict and potential ramifications are fully disclosed. Other conflicts (such as representing two clients simultaneously with diverging interests) are so serious that the law prohibits the attorney from representing both persons and a violation can lead to the disqualification of the lawyer.
Incompetence can take many forms and often involves attorneys practicing outside their typical practice areas, taking on too many cases or operating their firm without adequate staff. Regardless, when someone is harmed by the incompetence of his/her attorney, a careful investigation into a possible legal malpractice claim is certainly justified.
The law has a procedure for allowing an attorney to withdraw from a case for any number of reasons. The procedure is different depending on the stage of the case. A simple letter or email from the attorney communicating the withdrawal may be enough at the beginning of a case before suit is filed. More formal withdrawal procedures are necessary once a case is in suit. And depending on the nature of the fee agreement and payment, some refund may be warranted. The law does not allow an attorney to abandon a case without some form of notification to the client. Unfortunately, this happens all too often. Lawyers accept a case and fees then do nothing for the client, or they stop work altogether on the case without any notice to the client.
Given the complexity, The Baer Law Firm limits the number of legal malpractice cases it handles at any one time. Attorney Bryan Baer is passionate about providing the utmost care and attention to clients previously wronged by the legal profession. The cases below demonstrate the complexities involved in these types of cases and how courageous and compassionate representation can lead to successful results.
This case involves a mother and daughter who were charged with a murder they did not commit in a surrounding county of Atlanta, Georgia. The mom hired a gentleman who she thought was top notch criminal defense lawyer to represent both her and her daughter, not realizing there was a potential conflict of interest. The mom paid the criminal defense lawyer an upfront fee of $70,000, everything she had, to represent the both of them.
Before the lawyer could do any real work on the case, the Judge disqualified the lawyer. The Judge ruled there was a conflict for the same lawyer to defend both the mother and the daughter since there was a possibility that one but not the other could have actually committed the crime. Due to the conflict of interest, the Judge determined that the lawyer could no longer represent either mom or daughter in the case.
The mother now had to hire another criminal lawyer, but she had no money to do so because the disqualified lawyer refused to refund any portion of the $70,000 she paid him. As a result, she received grossly inadequate representation and was convicted of the crime. Fortunately, the trial Judge granted her a new trial based on Ineffective Assistance of Counsel, but she still had no money to hire another lawyer.
No attorney would help this woman get her money back. But attorney Bryan Baer did. He filed a legal malpractice suit against her former lawyer. After more than a year of litigation, attorney Bryan Baer got most of his client’s money back. She was then able to hire a new criminal defense lawyer. At the new trial, she and her daughter were both found “Not Guilty.”
In this case, a woman seriously injured in a car wreck hired an Atlanta based lawyer with catchy television ads to represent her. Unbeknownst to her, he had way too many cases than he could handle and not enough competent staff to manage the heavy volume. Her case sat for months. Finally, an associate lawyer at that firm filed suit, but then dismissed the case before trial because he was not prepared to try the case in court. (Georgia law allows a case to be dismissed once before trial and brought a second time to trial. While not ideal, the dismissal probably did not rise to legal malpractice.)
Unfortunately, this associate lawyer left the firm and a new lawyer at the firm took over the case. This lawyer quickly became overwhelmed as well with the volume of cases assigned to him. Not realizing the first lawyer had already dismissed the case, he too filed a dismissal before trial. Under Georgia law, the second dismissal barred the case from being filed again.
Realizing her only recourse was against the attorney she hired, the woman hired attorney Bryan Baer. Fortunately, attorney Bryan Baer acted quickly, as there were many legal malpractice claims against the lawyer she initially hired. In only a few months, attorney Bryan Baer proved the case and reached a favorable settlement with the malpractice carrier enabling his client to recover financially.
Attorney Bryan Baer holds himself to the highest standards and expects the same of other attorneys. He is passionate about holding lawyers accountable when they do not take their vocation seriously. You deserve the know the truth about your case and if the actions of your previous lawyer meet the criteria of legal malpractice. Call 404-THEBAER (404-843-2237) or fill out our online contact form so we may discuss your case in a free consultation.