What will be regarded as negligence varies from case to case, and no firm guideline can be given here. Even when a client loses an apparently straight forward case, that in itself is not sufficient indication that the lawyer was at fault. There must also be some evidence of negligence resulting in financial loss before the client has a legal remedy against the lawyer.
A lawyer might be negligent in allowing excessive delays that result in the client losing legal rights, or in mishandling a client's affairs by not taking the kind of precautions that are commonly taken by lawyers - for example, in a conveyancing matter, by not making the necessary inquiries about the property the client wants to buy, with the result that, after the purchase is made, the client discovers that the land cannot be used in a way that was originally intended.
The Legal Professional Conduct Commission (LPCC) does not have the power to make a finding of negligence against a lawyer. If a client believes their lawyer has acted negligently, independent legal advice should be obtained and a decision should be made whether or not to sue the lawyer for negligence. The LPCC cannot offer advice in this regard. Instead, the LPCC must investigate whether a lawyer has acted unprofessionally or unsatisfactorily and take whatever disciplinary action, if any, it deems appropriate in the circumstances. In doing so, the LPCC is unable to correct any alleged wrong occasioned to a client nor can it award compensation to the client although the parties may reach an agreement at conciliation.
Where there is evidence of negligence that has arisen as a result of unsatisfactory professional conduct or profession misconduct, the Commissioner may advise the person making the complaint that he has reason to believe that the person has suffered a financial loss. In these circumstances, the client should seek independent legal advice about a possible negligence claim. Negligence claims can be difficult, expensive and time consuming, and so the possible costs and the prospects of success must be carefully considered before pursuing a claim through the court.
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