Your lawsuit has gone wrong, and a judgment has been entered against you. You realized at the time of trial, or even before that, that your lawyer had committed an obvious error, such as failing to preserve your right to put on expert testimony, failing to call a key witness to testify, failing to object to introduction by your adversary of prejudicial evidence that the court would have excluded upon a proper objection, etc.
You get a new lawyer and appeal the judgment. Your new appellate lawyer, or your brother-in-law the real estate lawyer, informs you that you are allowed to wait until the outcome of your appeal before bringing a malpractice action against your negligent trial lawyer. In Massachusetts and some other states (check with a legal malpractice lawyer in your state), that advice is dead wrong. Lawyers unsophisticated in legal malpractice frequently offer that bad advice, often because they mistakenly believe that you do not have to sue in malpractice until you know the exact extent of the damages caused by your negligent trial attorney. While that sounds logical, it is simply NOT the law in Massachusetts. In Massachusetts, the applicable statute of limitations, taken in combination with the developed common law on the subject, requires that you bring an action against a negligent attorney no more than three years from the date you knew or reasonably should have known that something your lawyer did or failed to do may have caused you to suffer some harm. That date, called the “accrual date” of your malpractice action, is something you should not try to determine yourself. Instead, in the moment you begin to suspect that your attorney is at fault, you should contact a sophisticated legal malpractice lawyer in your state. This blog post does not contain enough information to determine how the statute of limitations applies to your case, because determining your accrual date is highly fact-determinative. Consult with an attorney, supply the attorney with all of the relevant facts of your case, and leave it to a professional.