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What is a breach of fiduciary duty?

When dealing with a mishandled case, you may immediately believe legal malpractice or negligence is to blame. You may have also heard the term breach of fiduciary duty thrown around before.

While the two terms often end up conflated, they are actually separate things. If your attorney committed a breach of fiduciary duty, this does not necessarily mean it was a case of legal malpractice or negligence. But what is the difference between the two?

What is a breach of fiduciary duty?

Cornell Law School looks at breaches of fiduciary duties. The lawyer is the fiduciary in this case, and their duty is to act in a way beneficial to another party. In this case, the client – you – act as that party. A breach of fiduciary duty entails that the attorney did not act to your benefit.

But a breach of duty has a separate tort from legal malpractice. Not only that, but there are different remedies for breach of fiduciary duty compared to remedies for legal malpractice.

To file a claim for a breach of fiduciary duty, you must demonstrate several things. First, that the lawyer recognized their duty to you in full. Second, that they breached or violated that duty. Third, that you sustained legally recognized damages. Finally, that the law recognizes the breach of duty as the cause for your damages and losses.

An attorney’s duties

Also, an attorney owes a number of duties to their client. Some of them can include a duty of confidentiality, a duty of undivided loyalty to the client and a duty to obtain informed consent from the client. Failure to meet these duties may fall under the category of a breach and you can act accordingly.