How to sue your lawyer

It can be very frustrating when an attorney you trusted to help you with a legal problem has violated that trust. Find out when and if you can file for malpractice against a lawyer you hired.

by Brette Sember, J.D.
updated March 16, 2023 ·  2min read

Man in suit reviews case paperwork with client

When you hire an attorney, you do so with trust and confidence. Most attorneys are upstanding and do a good job for their clients. Unfortunately, there are also some bad eggs out there. If your attorney has done something wrong, you may want to consider suing a lawyer for malpractice.

Understanding attorney malpractice

When suing an attorney for legal malpractice, you will need to show that the attorney did not use the ordinary amount of skill and care that most attorneys use in similar situations.

It's important to understand that just because you lost your case, it does not mean your attorney committed malpractice.

In every case, one side will win and one will lose, despite the skill and experience of the lawyers on each side. Instead, malpractice is about an attorney's making mistakes that other attorneys would not have made.

To win when you sue an attorney for malpractice, you need to show that:

  • The attorney was supposed to do something
  • He or she didn't do it (or did it wrong)
  • This resulted in a financial loss to you (losing the case or losing money)

Types of attorney malpractice 

There are a variety of ways in which you may feel you have been wronged, leading you to want to sue attorney for malpractice.

  • Negligence. To sue lawyer for negligence, you need to be able to prove the attorney didn't use the proper care in your case and missed a deadline, filed the wrong papers, didn't comply with court orders, or made other errors that were not intentional but were sloppy. Negligence happens when the attorney makes mistakes that other attorneys normally would not.
  • Breach of duty. This kind of malpractice happens when the lawyer violates his or her responsibilities to you by settling the case without your approval, not preparing the case for trial, lying to you, abandoning your case, misusing funds you provided for court costs, or misusing funds owed to you (such as a settlement amount). The attorney has not done what other attorneys would do in this type of case.
  • Breach of contract. This occurs when an attorney fails to do something he or she agreed to in your contract, such as filing your deed or patent. If the lawyer promised to do something he or she was contractually obligated to do and didn't do it, you have grounds for breach of contract.

Alternatives to lawsuits against lawyers

There are several alternatives to suing your lawyer.

  • If the attorney violated proper ethics, you can file a grievance with the ethics committee of the state bar association, which ensures all attorneys are in good standing to renew their licenses. The attorney could be disbarred or directed to pay you compensation.
  • If you are disputing a fee with your lawyer, the state also likely has a fee dispute committee that can help you obtain an out-of-court resolution.
  • You can hire another attorney to complete or fix your case and obtain the outcome you need.
  • You also can hire an attorney to negotiate with the problem lawyer and obtain a settlement for the mistakes that were made in your case.

It is very frustrating to feel that an attorney you trusted has let you down. Suing for malpractice is one way for you to be compensated for wrongdoing by your lawyer.

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Brette Sember, J.D.

About the Author

Brette Sember, J.D.

Brette Sember, J.D., practiced law in New York, including divorce, mediation, family law, adoption, probate and estates,… Read more

This portion of the site is for informational purposes only. The content is not legal advice. The statements and opinions are the expression of the author, not LegalZoom, and have not been evaluated by LegalZoom for accuracy, completeness, or changes in the law.