As part of proving your legal malpractice claim against a current or former attorney, you must show that the person was in fact your lawyer at some point. The attorney might argue as a defense that an attorney-client relationship was never established between themselves and you, and therefore no malpractice could have occurred.
Most of the time, proving an attorney-client relationship is as simple as producing a signed copy of the agreement the lawyer presented to you when you hired them. But if you don’t have such a document, don’t worry. Your case is not necessarily sunk. As with any other contract, it is not generally required that the agreement be expressly made or put into writing to qualify. It just makes proving that the attorney acted as your legal representative more challenging.
Establishing your attorney-client relationship in court
Each state has its own rules for testing if an attorney took on an individual or business as a client. The general rule is that an attorney-client relationship has formed when the following happens:
- A person asks a lawyer for legal advice or assistance
- The lawyer gives the requested advice or assistance, appears to so or agrees to do so
Once those things occur, the person becomes the attorney’s client. Without an express contract, this can be proven using emails, voice mails, text messages and other communications that show an attorney-client relationship as described above existed.
The attorney then owes the client several duties, including attorney-client privilege on all communications. If the attorney handles money or other assets on the client’s behalf, the attorney owes a fiduciary duty to manage those funds in the client’s best interests. But before a client can argue that their attorney negligently violated one of their duties, they must show that the attorney owed those duties in the first place.