In a perfect world, when a case settles, a client walks away with a feeling that the resolution was reasonable and that he was fairly compensated for his injuries. However, there are times when a client might second guess or scrutinize the path his lawyer led him to towards that final settlement. In many cases, a client’s buyer’s remorse is simply that. But if the lawyer rushed the client into settlement without much explanation or preparation, the client may have a claim for legal malpractice.
The lawyer’s job is to present settlement offers to the client, explain whether the offer is reasonable, and explain the strengths and weaknesses of the case. But in the end, it is client’s decision to settle or to go to trial.
Settling the case does not absolutely preclude the client from pursing a legal malpractice case. But to be successful on the legal malpractice claim, the client must prove that it was the lawyer’s negligence that caused the client to settle for less than a client who was properly represented would have. These can be difficult cases to prove. The defense, of course, would be that lawyer recommended the settlement because of the weaknesses in the client’s case.
In some cases, settlements are placed on the record. For example, in a wrongful death settlement, the personal representative must testify under oath and answer questions, including whether he was properly informed by his attorney that he could have taken the case to trial instead of settled, and that he thought the value of the settlement was reasonable. Whether the client will be held to those statements depends on the facts and circumstances of the testimony.
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