Drafting Errors: Getting to Know More About Legal Malpractice

Legal Malpractice

Picture this: You’ve worked hard on a case, only to find a glaring error in a contract or legal document. This mistake could potentially sabotage your client’s position and have them questioning your competency. Even the most meticulous attorneys can make drafting errors, but when those mistakes cause significant harm to a client, it may fall under the umbrella of legal malpractice.

Drafting Errors

Drafting errors happen when there are mistakes in the creation of legal documents, such as:

  • Incorrect terms: Using language that doesn’t reflect the agreed-upon deal points, leading to disputes.
  • Poorly defined clauses: Vague or ambiguous contract language open to multiple interpretations.
  • Missing signatures: Incomplete contracts may be unenforceable.
  • Breaches of the agreement: Including contract provisions that violate state or federal laws.
  • Failure to follow state requirements: Wills and trusts must meet specific legal criteria, such as witness signatures or notarization. Errors can invalidate the document.
  • Inaccurate beneficiary designations: Incorrectly identifying beneficiaries or misrepresenting their relationships to the testator (person creating the will or trust).
  • Unclear asset distributions: Inadequate descriptions of assets or ambiguous instructions for their distribution after death.
  • Inaccurate facts: Pleadings laying out false or misleading information, jeopardising the case.
  • Unsupported legal arguments: Citing irrelevant laws or failing to build a convincing legal foundation.
  • Missed filing deadlines: Legal documents such as motions or briefs must be filed by specific dates; failing to do so can harm your case.

Drafting errors stem from various sources, including:

  • Carelessness and Inattention: Simple mistakes like typos, miscalculations, or overlooking important information can creep in when lawyers are rushed or distracted.
  • Lack of Knowledge: Attorneys who don’t fully understand the relevant area of law may draft documents with incorrect provisions or flawed legal arguments.
  • Poor Communication: Misunderstandings between lawyer and client regarding goals or instructions can lead to drafting errors in the final document.
  • Outdated Templates: Relying on old forms without updating them to reflect changes in the law is a recipe for errors.

Consequences of Drafting Errors

The consequences of drafting errors can be far-reaching and deeply damaging. A single ambiguous phrase within a contract could spark a costly lawsuit as parties clash over the document’s intended meaning. Similarly, a flawed will or trust might fail to execute the deceased’s wishes for their estate, leading to family disputes and unintended beneficiaries.

Financial losses, wasted time in litigation, and a completely compromised legal position are all within the realm of possibility when significant drafting errors occur. In the most severe cases, an attorney’s drafting errors could completely erase all the previous work done for a client, resulting in a catastrophic outcome and potentially even leading to a legal malpractice claim against the lawyer responsible.

Proving Legal Malpractice

To have a legal malpractice claim related to drafting errors, a client must establish:

Step 1: Attorney-Client Relationship

The first step in any legal malpractice claim is proving that you were officially the lawyer’s client. This means an agreement, whether written or verbal, existed where the lawyer agreed to provide legal services and you agreed to be their client. Evidence demonstrating this relationship can include things like fee agreements, retainer letters, email communications, bills, or even the testimony of a witness.

Step 2: Negligence

Proving the lawyer was negligent means demonstrating their actions fell below the “reasonable care” standard expected of lawyers. You must show the drafting errors wouldn’t have occurred if another competent attorney handled the case under similar circumstances. Expert testimony from another lawyer often plays a crucial role in establishing the standard of care and explaining how the lawyer’s mistakes breached their duty.

Step 3: Causation

It’s not enough to prove that the lawyer made mistakes; you must also establish that their negligence directly caused you harm. This involves the “but for” test – if it weren’t for the lawyer’s drafting errors, you wouldn’t have suffered damages. For example, if a poorly drafted contract directly led to a lawsuit that you lost, this could fulfil the causation requirement.

Step 4: Damages

Legal malpractice requires evidence of tangible harm. This typically means financial damages, such as a monetary loss from a lawsuit, fees paid in correcting the error, or lost business opportunities due to the drafting mistakes. In some cases, the harm could extend beyond pure financial loss and might include elements like damage to your reputation, emotional distress, or the loss of legal rights.

Could Your Lawyer’s Mistake Cost You? Contact Us.

Drafting errors, while potentially devastating, are not always signs of legal malpractice. However, if the consequences of the error are significant and appear to be the result of a lawyer’s carelessness, it is worthwhile to consult with a legal malpractice attorney in Houston. Understanding your rights and the intricacies of legal malpractice can help you make informed decisions.

If you believe you have been the victim of legal malpractice, don’t hesitate to seek legal advice. Contact The Kassab Law Firm for a consultation and let us help protect your rights.