A legal malpractice case is different from other types of cases in that not only must it be proven that the lawyer screwed up, it must also be proven that the underlying case would have been successful. In order to prove that the lawyer screwed up, evidence needs to be presented to show that there the lawyer had a duty to the client, the lawyer breached that duty and because of that the client suffered damages.
In a recent Connecticut Appellate Court decision, a client filed a legal malpractice claim against her former lawyer for the mishandling of her divorce proceeding. After the client and her former spouse reached a settlement agreement, they appeared in court to finalize it however the client refused to proceed. Her lawyer successfully withdrew from the case and the client represented herself at trial. The lawyer filed suit against the client to recover unpaid legal fees and the client, continuing to represent herself, filed a counterclaim for legal malpractice. During the legal malpractice proceeding, the judge would not allow the client to testify as to the harm she suffered while representing herself in the underlying divorce action because a lay person is not allowed to give expert testimony. The client did not have an expert witness to testify on her behalf and therefore she was unable to prove her claim.
In the state of Connecticut, a legal expert must testify to prove certain aspects of a legal malpractice case. It is evident by the above decision that the courts strictly adhere to this requirement. The only exception the court notes is when the lawyer’s conduct is so obviously negligence that an expert would become unnecessary. In short, unless the lawyer handling your legal malpractice case believes she can prove that your prior lawyer’s conduct was so obviously negligent that an expert is unnecessary, you should be prepared to have an expert offer an opinion in your legal malpractice case. Contact our office to discuss your potential legal malpractice claim.