I had a call recently from a very upset person who did not get the result they were looking for in their divorce case. They were sure that they had a great legal malpractice lawsuit because their lawyer was unprepared and did not ask for things that the client wanted.
I explained to this caller that I couldn’t help because it’s very difficult to successfully sue an Illinois attorney for a bad judgment call. The caller became more upset and told me that lawyers are all pieces of shit and that we all protect each other which is why we won’t sue each other.
I really do empathize with people in these situations. You lay out a bunch of money for an attorney and they do a bad job and you don’t get the results you want. When you lose custody of your kids and are going bankrupt, it’s of course worse.
All of this said, we do sue other Illinois attorneys and are happy to do so when it’s a good case. But just like it’s difficult to sue a doctor for malpractice, it can be hard to sue an Illinois attorney for malpractice. And finding a top Chicago legal malpractice lawyer is hard, but not if you have good facts and damages on your side.
The truth is that there are over 70,000 Illinois attorneys. Some will screw up. A lawyer I know who is regarded as one of the best Illinois personal injury attorneys out there was successfully sued recently. It doesn’t make him a bad lawyer. It means he had a mistake that was “beyond the standard of care” and his client suffered real damages that can be measured financially as a result.
Most successful Illinois legal malpractice lawsuits involve an attorney who has caused “irreparable harm.” That means their mistakes can’t be fixed. If they drop your case 60 days before your time to sue runs out, you can still sue so it’s not legal mal. If they promised to get in to court six months ago but never did, you can still get in to court and don’t have irreparable harm.
On the other hand, if your lawyer failed to file a lawsuit in time, sued the wrong parties or did something to cause a financial loss you can’t recover from, you might have a case to sue them.
The cleanest example is when someone is injured in a car accident that is clearly the fault of the other car. If your attorney has two years from the accident date to sue and fails to do so, you’d have a lawsuit against them. Another common one we are seeing now is for birth injuries where the attorney believes they have until the child’s 8th birthday to file a lawsuit, but it turns out they only have until their 2nd birthday to sue because the treating doctor worked for a Federally funded medical clinic. That changes the time limits for suing and is a mistake many lawyers make.
What you can’t do though is sue because you don’t like the case result and think the attorney should have been better or done different things. The defense in those cases will be the lawyer saying “I felt prepared and made a judgment call to do what I did.” If the judgment fails it’s not necessarily negligence.
As a result I can tell you I’ve never read about a successful lawsuit against an Illinois divorce attorney. That’s not to say it hasn’t happened or couldn’t happen, but it surely is rare. Most success claims against lawyers for malpractice are against personal injury lawyers.
This of course makes clients feel that bad lawyers get away with robbery. Sometimes that does happen, but even if you can’t sue them, you can always file an ethical complaint against them with the Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission or ARDC. Their standards for holding a lawyer accountable are worthy of a whole other post, but they do discipline bad behaving attorneys which can include taking away their license.
The best thing an attorney can do for you when you feel like suing a past lawyer is to talk to you for free and give an objective, honest assessment of your possible case. We will do that for you for free any time. If you’d like to speak to one of our lawyers in confidence, please call us any time at 312-346-5320.