Handling Disputes Involving Legal, Accounting & Other Professional Services
For clients and professionals alike, Rushing & Guice handles claims of legal, accounting, and other professional negligence or malpractice. We work with our clients to fully assess the circumstances surrounding any such claims, thoroughly evaluating the conduct at issue to determine whether the appropriate standard of care has been met. Rushing & Guice partner William L. Guice III has an extensive background in legal and financial ethics. He has been called as an expert witness to testify and offer opinions in professional malpractice cases for both plaintiffs and defendants.
Biloxi Legal, Accounting, and Other Professional Malpractice Services
As professionals ourselves, we have a deep appreciation and understanding of the responsibilities and obligations that lawyers, accountants, and other professionals have to their clients. We accept meritorious claims from clients and defend professionals wrongfully accused. We stand ready to assist all clients involved in matters of professional negligence, including those involving:
- Architects and design professionals
- Financial services consultants and analysts
- Insurance agents and brokers
- Real estate brokers and agents
- Securities broker dealers
What is Professional Malpractice?
Professionals—lawyers, accountants, engineers, financial advisors, real estate brokers, and architects—are held to a standard of care in service to their clients. When they fail that standard, and clients suffer loss, these professionals should be held responsible for the harm resulting from their substandard conduct. These professionals, too, are entitled to representation. At Rushing & Guice, our attorneys are experienced in representation of both professionals and their clients.
Professional malpractice claims are often contentious and emotional because a client’s trust has been betrayed when the professional is accused of not living up to the standards of his or her profession. Effective representation requires knowledge and experience—especially with regard to the norms of each profession—clear analysis, communication, and a network of expert witnesses whose gravitas and reputations entitle them to evaluate and criticize the performance of another professional. At Rushing & Guice, we have that experience and network to serve the interests of our clients.
What is Legal Malpractice?
Lawyers have a responsibility to their clients to be accountable for a case and to provide reasonable and knowledgeable care, advice, and representation. When an attorney intentionally or negligently disregards the standards of professional service and injury occurs, it is considered malpractice. Generally, legal malpractice might result from a failure to know the applicable law, missing important filing deadlines, planning errors, inadequate discovery precedent to fostering decision-making, and failure to calendar important deadlines and court dates.
More specifically, legal malpractice might occur if a legal claim or lawsuit is mishandled. Malpractice might involve poor advice or document drafting related to a business deal, real estate transaction, separation or divorce agreement, or estate planning. Damages resulting from a claim of malpractice are sometimes tricky to prove, often taking on a series of “what ifs” and examining the viability of the original transaction or decision that initiated the claim of malpractice.
Legal malpractice can arise from different theories of breach of the standard of professional care:
Like all negligence claims, a claim of legal malpractice based on a theory of negligence requires that the plaintiff prove five elements: duty, breach of duty, cause in fact, proximate cause, and harm. Essentially, a plaintiff must prove that the documented harm caused was the direct result of a breach of a professional duty. To defend against a claim of negligence, the defendant must disprove any of these elements.
Breach of Contract
A breach of contract is a failure, without legal excuse, to perform any promise that forms all or part of a contract for legal services. This includes failure to perform in a manner that meets with professional standards. A breach of contract claim requires proof of essential elements: a valid contract, provisions of the contract, did a material breach occur, are there any defenses to the breach, and what damages resulted from the breach. The defense to a breach of contract claim requires disputing one or more of these elements.
Breach of Fiduciary Duty
The attorney-client relationship requires that the attorneys act in the best interests of their clients, placing the client’s interests above their own. A claim of legal malpractice based on breach of fiduciary duty also requires proof of three elements: a clear duty was present, a breach of that duty occurred, and damages resulted from the breach. Defending such a claim entails disputing one or more of these elements.
Conflict of Interest
A conflict of interest arises when an attorney has divided loyalties among several clients, or when a lawyer or law firm places its own interests above the interests of the client. Anytime a lawyer might have clients, relationships, or experiences that raise potential conflicts, these circumstances must be disclosed and discussed with the client beforehand. A failure to disclose or an inability to provide fair and competent representation to a client because of this conflict might result in malpractice. Again, the defense to such a claim involves disputing any of the elements of conflict of interest
Legal malpractice may be the result of fraud committed by an attorney. Fraud occurs when the attorney makes a material misrepresentation to a client, fails to disclose facts, or conceals facts in an attempt to persuade the client to take a specific action. Fraud might also be the basis for a criminal investigation, conducted by the Mississippi Bar or prosecutors. Again, defending such a claim requires contrary evidence disputing one or more elements of fraud.
Abuse of Client Funds
Lawyers must maintain separate trust funds for each client, keeping a separate accounting, and never borrowing or co-mingling funds, even with a client’s tacit approval. Mistakes and negligence are not defenses to these claims.
Damages in a Legal Malpractice Claim
Clients injured by attorneys from their malpractice are entitled to damages. Compensatory damages pay for the loss incurred from the malpractice. Punitive damages might be available if the attorney acted with gross negligence or recklessness. A client might be entitled to expenses and legal fees, and if property was lost as a result of the malpractice, the client might be awarded the value of the lost property.
What is Accounting Malpractice?
Just as an attorney might harm a client through substandard services, negligence, or fraud, accountants, too, are held to a professional standard of care when dealing with clients. Claims for accounting malpractice must be filed within three years of the wrongdoing under Mississippi’s statute of limitations. Therefore, a suspicion of accounting malpractice needs to be investigated timely to preserve any cause of action.
A claim of accounting malpractice requires proof of the existence of an accountant-client relationship, that negligence or intentional misconduct occurred while handling a client’s financial records, and that harm occurred as a result of that malfeasance. As in any professional malpractice case, expert witnesses are needed to establish the standard of care required for professional services and that the accountant failed to exercise that standard of care.
Accounting malpractice can arise from a variety of circumstances:
Manipulating Financial Statements: Accountants can misrepresent profits and losses to bolster the evaluation of a business or inflate the price of stock.
Incorrectly Classifying Data: How an item is classified, as an asset or liability, can render a false impression of the financial health of a business, leading to an eventual tax liability.
Errors of Omission: Data entry mistakes, both intentional and negligent, involving business inventory, outstanding receivables, or past due accounts can impact the accuracy of a balance sheet to the detriment of a business or owner.
Accounting Fraud: This might include misrepresentation of oneself as a CPA.
Rushing & Guice, P.L.L.C: Biloxi, Mississippi Legal, Accounting, and Professional Malpractice Attorneys
At Rushing & Guice, our attorneys have an extensive background handling claims involving legal, accounting, and other professional malpractice, and work with our clients to develop and implement the best strategies for resolving such disputes. Call us at 228-374-2313 or fill out our online form to arrange a consultation. We look forward to hearing from you, and look forward to the opportunity to serve as your attorneys.