Navigating the World of Professional Legal Negligence/Legal Malpractice and the Disciplinary Rules

In rendering their legal services to clients, lawyers must comply with professional standards and disciplinary rules. What happens when a lawyer fails to fulfill his responsibilities to a client with respect to documenting a deal, handling litigation, meeting deadlines, meeting the statute of limitations for a claim, disclosing confidential client information, failing to file paperwork required in litigation, trademark applications or patent applications, among others? When any of the foregoing happens, the lawyer may be subject to a malpractice and professional liability lawsuit. Most claims against lawyers are for professional malpractice, which is based in negligence and consists of the standard elements of any negligence action: duty, breach of the duty, proximate cause and damages. Cosgrove v. Grimes, 774 S.W.2d 662 (Tex. 1989). As a malpractice litigator, I am often retained by clients to investigate and bring such a claim in litigation if the evidence exists to establish a breach of the professional standard of care. Lawyers also have specific, professional rules that govern their practice. For Texas lawyers, the Texas Rules of Professional Disciplinary Conduct are the governing authority. Other states have similar rules. While Texas lawyers will know these rules, not many non-lawyers are aware that their lawyer's conduct is governed by these very specific rules. What do these rules say? The rules prescribe proper conduct for lawyers in a variety of situations. For example, there are disciplinary rules on the confidentiality of information, conflicts of interest, communications with clients when you are representing an organization, candor toward the tribunal, dealing with unrepresented persons, and professional independence, among others. How do these disciplinary rules come into play in a professional negligence lawsuit? How does a professional negligence litigator use these disciplinary rules? As a professional negligence litigator, I often try to offer into evidence testimony and written documentation of the lawyers/law firms violations of the disciplinary rules. The disciplinary rules, and any violation of them, bececome powerful evidence in any legal malpractice action.

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