The answer depends on a number of circumstances. In Illinois, in most instances, a plaintiff can file a lawsuit for legal malpractice up to two years after the plaintiff discovers that she has a claim for legal malpractice. This is called the "discovery rule." You must file a lawsuit for legal malpractice within 2 years of the date that you know, or reasonably should know, that you were wrongfully injured by a lawyer's representation. This is the statute of limitation.

In most instances, you also must file the legal malpractice lawsuit within 6 years of the lawyer's mistake (or the conduct that gave rise to the lawsuit for legal malpractice). This is the Illinois statute of repose. A statute of repose may pass before a client has discovered the lawyer's malpractice. In that event, the claim is barred, even when the client doesn't yet know about it, and even if the cause of action for legal malpractice hasn't accrued (in other words, even when the client does not yet have a claim for legal malpractice)! Together, these rules require that an Illinois legal malpractice lawsuit be filed within two (2) years of discovering the malpractice but no more than six (6) years after the mistake or representation occurred.

Other states have different statutes of limitation. Some states allow three years, some five years, some six years. Some states do not have statutes of repose. Even Illinois has exceptions to these general rules, particularly in the context of estate planning malpractice.

If you think that you have a claim for legal malpractice, you should immediately seek the advice of an attorney experienced in handling legal malpractice matters.

By Thomas W. Dillon

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