Breach of Fiduciary Duty Examples

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Breach of Fiduciary Duty Examples

Breach of Fiduciary Duty Examples

If you believe that your previous attorney has wronged you, you may be wondering how exactly an attorney can breach their fiduciary duty to you or what are some common breach of fiduciary duty examples.

The fiduciary duty is the foundation upon which the entire attorney-client relationship is built, and you need to be able to identify when that foundation cracks before the entire structure falls down on your head.

Some ways that your attorney can breach their fiduciary duty to you include:

  • Intentionally breaching the terms of your contract
  • Breaking attorney-client confidentiality
  • Having an undisclosed conflict of interest
  • Miscommunications or half-truths
  • Any form of self-dealing

Ross Sears, who has experience suing attorneys who have breached their fiduciary duties to their clients for over 33 years, is here to talk all things breach of fiduciary duty. If you or a loved one trusted a previous attorney who broke their duty to you in a way that benefitted them, while harming you, contact the Ross Sears, the lawyer who sues lawyers at Sears Crawford today at (713) 223-3333.

How is breach of fiduciary duty determined?

Before we get into our list of breach of fiduciary duty examples, we should first answer a few questions. Namely, what is fiduciary duty? How does one break it? What does breach of fiduciary duty mean?

The fiduciary duty is the highest duty imposed by law in our country. It is your attorney’s legal obligation to act in a manner that puts your best interest ahead of their own. They are required by law to keep you fully informed and be completely open and honest with you about your case, and are prohibited from any form of self-dealing whatsoever. Essentially, the client must always come first.

Therefore, a breach of fiduciary duty in Texas occurs whenever an attorney puts their interests before yours in any way. Proving that this breach has occurred will usually require the assistance of legal malpractice attorneys in Texas, who can provide evidence and illustrate that the actions of the attorney went beyond simple negligence or mere mistakes, and resulted in some personal benefit to the attorney.

What is an example of a breach of fiduciary duty complaint?

Although there are many common examples of unethical attorney behavior, not all of them constitute breach of fiduciary duty. Which of the following could be considered a breach of fiduciary duties?

Some of the more common behaviors which often constitute breach of fiduciary duty that we see at Sears Crawford include:

  • Breach of contract. When you enter into an attorney-client relationship with your lawyer, you typically (but not always) sign a contract. When the lawyer intentionally fails to comply with the terms of that contract, to their financial advantage, a breach of contract occurs and you may be entitled to damages. A breach of contract claim is typically not the same as a fiduciary duty claim. However, if an attorney or law firm engages in billing practices that are deceptive or unconscionable, it may give rise to a claim for breach of fiduciary duty.
  • Confidentiality. Your attorney can’t reveal confidential information regarding your case unless you give them permission to do so.  If your attorney discloses privileged or confidential information about you, without your permission, it can be a breach of fiduciary duty claim.
  • Conflict of interest. If a conflict of interest does arise, it is your attorney’s job to make you aware of the conflict immediately. For example, if while acting on behalf of your case, your attorney takes on a client with opposing interests, or simply favors another client over you, this can be considered a conflict of interest. Another example of a conflict of interest is when the lawyer goes into business with a client, or has financial interests that are different or contrary to the client. Undisclosed conflicts of interests give rise to breach of fiduciary duty claims against your attorney.
  • Self-dealing. This refers to when an attorney acts in a manner that benefits the attorney to the detriment of the client. An example of this is when an attorney settles the client’s case in a way that the attorney gets the vast majority of the money and the client ends up with substantially less money, or if proceeding to trial is in the client’s best interest but the lawyer settles the case because it is financially easier or quicker for the attorney. Unless the client consents to such a settlement after full and complete disclosure of all the facts and information, such could give rise to a breach of fiduciary duty claim.
  • Miscommunication. Proper communication between a client and their attorney is crucial. If your attorney is withholding information, or intentionally giving you advice that is not true or is less than the “full” truth, this can give rise to a breach of fiduciary duty claim.

How do you prove breach of fiduciary duty?

To successfully prove a breach of fiduciary duty claim, you must demonstrate the following three things.

  1. There was duty. You must prove that a fiduciary relationship existed and that your attorney owed you a duty to represent your best interests. This is typically established via a written contract, although it can be established verbally or through the attorney’s course of action under some circumstances.
  2. That duty was breached. The lawyer acted (or failed to act) in a way that harmed the client and in a way that a reasonable and prudent attorney under the same or similar circumstances would not have acted.
  3. That breach of duty resulted in harm to the client. The harm is typically proven by showing that the outcome of the client’s case would have been better for the client if the attorney had done what he or she was required to do under the standard of care for attorneys in the same or similar situation, and the outcome benefitted the attorney to the client’s detriment.

Please note that there are alternatives to suing your lawyer. However, if you decide to sue your lawyer for breach of fiduciary duty, it’s wise to find a legal malpractice or professional negligence attorney as soon as possible.

Continue reading: When is it too late to fire your attorney?

Is breach of fiduciary duty a crime?

While breach of fiduciary duty is primarily a civil matter to be worked out between you and your previous lawyer, certain actions that constitute a breach may also amount to criminal offenses, particularly if they involve fraud, embezzlement, or other illegal activities. Yes, we are sad to report that some attorneys literally steal money from their clients.

You shouldn’t expect your previous attorney’s breach of fiduciary duty to result in criminal charges, but your new legal malpractice attorney should be able to tell you if something criminal was going on and if so, what you should do about it.

What are the consequences of a breach of fiduciary duty?

The consequences of a breach of fiduciary duty can be incredibly severe for clients. Some of the more common consequences suffered by clients can include:

  • Financial losses. At minimum, clients will likely suffer significant monetary damages as a result of their attorney’s breach of duty.
  • Stress and emotional suffering. Legal battles are emotionally taxing, and when your attorney isn’t acting as your ally, the fallout can be particularly brutal.
  • Reputational damage. Depending on the importance of your original legal matter, losing a winnable case can have untold consequences for personal and professional reputation.
  • Opportunity costs. If your previous case was a business matter, it is likely that the opportunity presented by winning will never be recovered.
  • Long-term consequences. The impact of losing an important case can have massive repercussions on your finances, career, and family life.

How do you go about suing for breach of fiduciary duty?

Suing for breach of fiduciary duty involves hiring a Houston legal malpractice attorney to bring a civil lawsuit against your previous lawyer. Your new attorney will evaluate your previous case, gather evidence, and attempt to right the wrongs done by your previous lawyer.

If you are planning on suing a lawyer for malpractice, it is important to be familiar with what is considered malpractice for an attorney. Generally speaking, a lawyer can be guilty of either making a mistake (legal negligence) or breaching their fiduciary duty, which often results in some form of personal benefit to the attorney.

Whether your lawyer breached their fiduciary duty or was simply negligent, Ross Sears, a professional negligence lawyer from Sears Crawford can help you build your case to sue them.

Do these breach of fiduciary duty examples sound familiar? Sears Crawford can help.

If you see shades of your previous attorney in these breach of fiduciary duty examples, do not wait to contact a new attorney who can help you set things right. If you plan on getting justice, you’ll need to work with experienced and aggressive legal malpractice attorneys who know how to prove that your previous attorney breached their duty.

Whether you’re wondering how to prove attorney overbilling or are looking to sue your previous lawyer for attorney fraud, Ross Sears can help.

Call Ross Sears at Sears Crawford today at (713) 223-3333 or contact us online to begin your journey towards justice.

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