Author Archives: Peter J. Biging

Lessons from Largest U.S. Tax Fraud in U.S. History

If you are in the world of finance, accounting or tax chances are you have probably heard of Sam Wyly and his late brother Charles Wyly. In recent years, the business mogul brothers have been the hot topic of litigation as they battled with the IRS and SEC over alleged tax and securities fraud that may have spanned decades. In the most recent decision to come out of the Wyly saga, Sam Wyly was ordered by a Dallas bankruptcy court to pay $1.1 billion in back taxes, interest and penalties. While the litigation is noteworthy because of the massive amount of dollars involved, it can also provide some reminders for tax professionals, particularly those with sophisticated clients.

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Limitation on Liability Clause Not Enough to Protect Accountant

Here at PL Liability Matters we have written on numerous occasions about the importance of an engagement letter. The engagement letter is a critical tool for setting expectations and managing risks. As we have said before a well drafted engagement letter can deter malpractice claims and in meritless suits it can be “Exhibit A” to a dispositive motion. A case out of New York involving an accountant-client relationship demonstrates just that scenario. Unfortunately in this case, however, the court found that the engagement letter did not sufficiently limit the risk to the professional in order to avoid the malpractice claim.

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Drop Dead Deadlines – Impartial or Indiscriminate? 

The world of litigation is rife with deadlines. Even a meritorious argument or strong case can be derailed by failure to timely file pleadings and motions. This reality was illustrated in the recent case of Connolly v. 129 East 69th St. Corp. In this slip and fall case, a defendant moved for summary judgment to dismiss plaintiff’s case, and the trial court granted the motion. On appeal, however, the decision was reversed, as the court held the motion was filed one day after the motion filing deadline.

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Malpractice Claim Barred due to Mediation Confidentiality

Many litigants want their day in court; however, the vast majority of cases never make it to trial. Facing heavy dockets, courts are increasingly encouraging parties to resolve claims through ADR methods, like mediation. In order to foster successful mediation, several states have enacted mediation confidentiality statutes, which prevent mediation discussions from being admitted into court if the mediation is unsuccessful. While the purpose of these statutes is to encourage parties to speak openly with the mediator, confidentiality may have unforeseen consequences on the attorney-client relationship.

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Case Analysis: Defamation and Blogs

In the age of lawyering we now live in, law firms frequently use blog posts, Twitter and newsletters as a marketing tool and to provide content of interest to clients or prospective clients. These blogs and postings have become a tool not only for “reporting” in the broad sense, but also of showcasing an attorney’s depth of knowledge about a particular subject, and the fact that they have their fingers on the “pulse” of legal developments in their field as they happen. While blogging, tweeting, or e-mail blasts often implicate ethical questions, another concern is whether, and to what extent, they may create possible exposure for defamation.

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Paralegal Power! Appropriate Delegation = Client Satisfaction

The practice of law is changing. In particular, as a result of modern technology, attorneys’ reliance upon support staff is not what it used to be. This has impacted the role of paralegals, members of a dwindling field. Indeed, according to the 2012 Survey of Law Firm Economics, the average number of paralegals per law firm has dipped by over 30%. However, paralegals still play an important role in a law firm. If utilized effectively, paralegals have proven to be invaluable players who provide a key service to clients.

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S.O.L.: The Continuous Representation Doctrine

Statute of limitations laws are intended to protect defendants from stale and meritless claims. Moreover, these statutes pressure plaintiffs to institute supported causes of action while the evidence is ripe. Certainly, these statutes are an ally to the defense bar and can be a major obstacle for plaintiffs. A plaintiff asserting a professional malpractice claim may attempt to circumvent a time-bar defense through the continuous representation doctrine. The argument is that the continuing professional-client relationship delays the accrual of a claim. This theory was recently asserted successfully in New York against an attorney.

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NCAA Sports Probe Triggers Ethics Complaint

The NCAA has established strict rules to regulate the activities of student-athlete representatives, aka “boosters.” If a booster violates collegiate rules, the NCAA can take action to hold an athlete ineligible from competition or impose other sanctions upon the school. In a recent unexpected development, the NCAA was put on the defensive when its investigation of the University of Miami football program revealed that one of its own attorneys may have violated Florida's ethics rules.

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Tripartite Relationship Put to the Test

The so-called "tripartite" relationship exists when an insurer retains defense counsel to represent the interests of the insured. Against this backdrop, it is relatively uncommon for an insurer to maintain a successful claim against defense counsel. In the majority of states, direct malpractice claims by an insurer are disfavored. The theory behind these decisions stems from the sanctity of the attorney-client relationship and a hesitation to interfere with defense counsel’s duty to the insured in the tripartite scenario. Accordingly, few claims of this nature succeed. A recent decision by the Washington Supreme Court is no exception.

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Time to Revisit your Password

It is time to revisit your password because it may be susceptible to an easy hack. The risk of cyber loss is well documented. We’ve routinely warned of these risks previously and, no doubt, will continue to do so because cyber losses are reportedly increasing, and the cost to recover from a data breach can be staggering. All professionals maintain personally identifiable data that would be a goldmine to hackers. Most professionals - hopefully all – at the very least utilize the most fundamental type of security by storing electronic data in a password protected format. But, according to a recent survey, that password may need an update.

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