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What Is the Difference Between Professional Negligence and Legal Malpractice in Wisconsin?

Legal professionals in Wisconsin are held to exacting standards by both their clients and the state. As such, it is essential that they understand the importance of avoiding exposure to claims of professional negligence and legal malpractice. However, it is also crucial to recognize that while these two concepts are related, they have distinct differences that lawyers and law firms in Wisconsin should be aware of.

Professional Negligence

Professional negligence occurs when someone fails to exercise the standard of care appropriate for a reasonably competent professional in their field, resulting in harm to their client. The elements a plaintiff needs to prove professional negligence are as follows:

  1. Duty of Care – The professional owes a duty of care to their client based on their professional relationship.
  2. Breach of Duty – The professional breaches this duty by failing to exercise that standard of care.
  3. Causation – The professional’s breach of duty directly causes harm to the client.
  4. Losses – The client suffers actual losses due to the professional’s negligence.

Examples of professional negligence in legal practice include the following:

  • Failing to meet critical deadlines
  • Inadequate research or investigation
  • Errors in drafting legal documents

Legal Malpractice

Legal malpractice is a specific type of professional negligence that applies to lawyers. It occurs when a lawyer fails to provide competent legal representation, breaching their professional duties and causing harm to their client. The elements constituting legal malpractice are as follows:

  1. Attorney-Client Relationship – An attorney-client relationship must exist for a legal malpractice claim to be valid.
  2. Negligence or Breach of Contract – The lawyer must have acted negligently or breached a contract with the client.
  3. Causation – The lawyer’s negligence or breach must have directly caused harm to the client.
  4. Losses – The client must have suffered actual losses due to the lawyer’s malpractice.

Examples of legal malpractice include:

  • Missed statute of limitations
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Failure to obtain client consent for settlement

Key Differences Between Professional Negligence and Legal Malpractice


While professional negligence and legal malpractice share some similarities, there are notable differences between the two concepts. Professional negligence has a broader scope of application, as it applies to various professions, such as doctors, accountants, and architects. On the other hand, legal malpractice is specific to lawyers and their professional duties.

Another key difference is that legal malpractice claims require the existence of an attorney-client relationship, whereas professional negligence claims may not always require a formal professional-client relationship. Furthermore, legal malpractice claims can be based on a breach of contract between the lawyer and client, in addition to negligence. In contrast, professional negligence claims primarily focus on negligent behavior. These differences can have implications for the scope and applicability of malpractice insurance coverage for lawyers and law firms.

Importance of Malpractice Insurance for Wisconsin Lawyers and Law Firms


Malpractice insurance plays a crucial role in protecting Wisconsin lawyers and law firms from the financial consequences of professional negligence or legal malpractice claims. By providing a safety net, malpractice insurance helps to mitigate the potential financial losses that can arise from such claims. Moreover, insurance can offer valuable assistance in defending against malpractice claims and negotiating settlements, helping to minimize the impact on the lawyer or law firm.

Call WILMIC today or contact us online to learn more about policy options.



What Is the Difference Between Professional Negligence and Legal Malpractice in Wisconsin?