Legal Malpractice – Or Professional Negligence Made Simple
For the first decade of his practice, while working at a large law firm, Mr. King handled the largest legal malpractice cases litigated by the firm. The following year, Mr. King's first expert testimony on the standard of practice amongst lawyers was delivered at the express request of a Federal Judge in a high profile case – the felony prosecutions of an "Alliance" of 15 attorneys who had defrauded insurance companies for over one hundred millions dollars. Although at the time Mr. King had practiced law for only a decade, the Judge expressly said that he wanted Mr. King's expert opinion on how the conduct of those attorneys contrasted with the normal custom of practice. Since that time, Mr. King has testified repeatedly on legal malpractice issues; an Appellate Court in one instance stated that where "King's testimony focused on the standard of care of attorneys in litigation matters", any "claim that King was unqualified is without merit". With offices in San Diego, Mr. King has assisted attorneys in the Los Angeles area as well as all of California and across the nation.
The Four Steps of Establishing a Legal Malpractice Case
To begin, there are four steps to a legal malpractice case:
- Establishing the attorney client relationship. Although this is often taken for granted, it usually needs to be considered. In one 2011 case, a Judge dismissed a legal malpractice claim in the midst of a jury trial based solely upon Mr. King's analysis that there was no attorney-client relationship under the applicable facts and law. To properly analyze these issues, the potential existence of both express and implied retentions needs to be considered, and determinations made (which are often difficult) as to precisely who is, and who is not, a client.
- Establishing a Breach of Duty. A consideration of these issues usually requires: a) a detailed understanding of the situation facing the attorney; b) how the attorney reacted to the issues (i.e., there is a significant difference between a lawyer making a true "judgment call" and simply overlooking key matters); c) whether the attorney obtained the client's fully informed consent when appropriate or necessary; d) the applicable rules of legal ethics; and e) specific findings in relevant cases. Mr. King has testified on each of these points.
- Establishing Causation. The basic approach is that the plaintiff must prove that the attorney's negligence caused damage through a "case within a case." Although superficially this might not require a legal expert, in practice an expert is very helpful to Judge and Jury in explaining the particular nuances involved. Mr. King is intimately familiar with both the case law on this point and the most effective way to properly convey appropriate information regarding complex legal matters to a lay jury.
- Damages. It is unusual that an attorney can testify to the specific amount of damages involved, except to either outline an approach based on earlier statements by the attorneys (which requires a detailed explanation to the jury), or through establishing the settlement valuation which was affected by the malpractice. In both areas, the expert witness and attorney need to work closely to coordinate the entry of appropriate evidence. Invariably, the witness' testimony is challenged by an in limine motion; Mr. King is quite experienced in both presenting and opposing such motions.
The Crucial Fifth Step - Communicating Legal Malpractice Issues to a Jury
The four points above deal with the substance of a legal malpractice case – which is, of course, necessary. But there is an equally important step which is too-often overlooked. Lawyers have spent their entire careers working with complex legal issues which have become shorthand to them, yet jurors are no more familiar with these concepts than a cat is with a computer. So Mr. King has developed a solution to bridge this communication gap:
"Taking the Jury to Law School" – To bridge this communication gap, which most lawyers do not even realize exists in every legal malpractice case, Mr. King has developed, in conjunction with very experienced trial lawyers, an approach he terms colloquially as "taking the jury to law school." Mr. King's entire life has been devoted to writing (he was a paid news writer as a 15-year old high school student), speaking (he has won numerous speech championships), and teaching (he is a law professor and award-winning Continuing Legal Education instructor). These experiences have enabled him to create his unique approach. Incidentally, this expression is taken directly from a jury foreman: "Mr. King made us feel like we were in law school the whole time he was there. He was the only witness in the whole trial who we understood."
Effective Expert Testimony for Your Legal Malpractice Case
Expert testimony is a critical component of any legal malpractice case. Trust the advice and assistance of a qualified expert who has proven his capabilities time and again over decades of practice. Contact Jim King, Esq. for help with your legal malpractice case.