Timeline to malpractice in 9 steps:
- Your lawyer files a lawsuit on your behalf.
- The defendant (who you sued) serves your lawyer with interrogatories, which are questions for you to answer.
- Your lawyer fails to send you the interrogatories (or he sends them to you, but fails to send the answers to the questions back to the Defendant’s lawyer).
- Sixty days elapse, and Defendant’s lawyer has called and written, asking for answers to the interrogatories. Your lawyer has ignored his calls and letters.
- The Defendant’s lawyer files a motion with the court asking for a court order to compel you to answer the interrogatories. Your lawyer receives an Order giving him ten days to provide typed-up answers to the questions, verified by you. You remain unaware of this process.
- Ten days later, your lawyer has remained in default. The defendant’s lawyer places one more call to your lawyer’s office in the hope of resolving the matter informally, without success.
- After another week, the Defendant’s lawyer files a motion to dismiss your case for failure to answer interrogatories (and for failure to respond to the Order compelling answers).
- Your lawyer does not respond to the Motion to Dismiss.
- The Court dismisses your lawsuit.
In this timeline above, your lawyer has committed legal malpractice. He has done this by allowing your lawsuit to get dismissed, simply by failing to answer interrogatories, which are one of the many forms of pre-trial discovery devices used by lawyers to ask questions and collect information from each other while a case is pending. If lawyers don’t cooperate with each other during the discovery phase, the court will dismiss their case — and that is malpractice!
Every state and federal court system imposes specific rules for conducting pre-trial discovery. Judges often set additional case management deadlines for issuing interrogatories, producing documents and engaging in other discovery procedures. Openly ignoring these procedures is negligent, and an attorney is acts so negligently is subject to a claim for damages for his malpractice.