No Privity? No Problem

In New York, privity is required in order to maintain a legal malpractice claim. In other words, the claim must be client v. former attorney “absent special circumstances.” But under what special circumstances would a court be inclined to find legal malpractice in a non-privity situation? A case this past week shed some light on what one of those situations may look like.
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Breach of Contract or Tort? Does it Matter?

The professional-client relationship often begins with a retainer agreement/engagement letter: a contract that defines the terms and scope of professional services. Accordingly, when a client files suit alleging professional malpractice, the claims will generally sound in both contract and tort. Whether a claim is asserted as a breach of contract or tort can have important implications with regard to the statute of limitations and other potential defenses. For instance, depending on the state, a tort claim may be time-barred where a breach of contract claim is not.
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When Does the Clock Start?

Determining the length of the statute of limitations is easy but the trick often comes in figuring out when the statutory period begins running. In the legal malpractice context, this may often present the difference between dismissal or protracted litigation. A recent New York Supreme Court decision has shed some further light on why it remains important for all parties to know the applicable statute and accrual date, and highlights yet another situation in which a Court will employ a jurisdictional accrual rule to bar a claim.
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Frivolous Lawsuit Leads to Serious Damages

At one point or another, many attorneys will encounter a lawsuit they believe to be potentially frivolous. These claims often lead to frustration for the defending attorney and client who may face two difficult alternatives: (a) settle the case in order to avoid defense costs or (b) expend time and money in defending a meritless claim. A recent case out of Pennsylvania may give some hope to those forced to defend weak claims and might give pause to anyone considering such a suit in the future.
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What’s Reasonable Attorney Review?

Although some law firms are slow to embrace new technologies, debt collection firms appear to be the exception to this general rule. Most of these firms use sophisticated computer software to retrieve information from their creditor-clients, and use the program to automatically populates legal forms. This process saves a significant amount of time for attorneys in a high-volume field, allowing them to file hundreds of basic pleadings in a single day. However, this process has come under increasing scrutiny from both debtors’ rights firms and the government.
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Malpractice for a Client’s Failure to Report

Although some law schools are notorious for offering elective courses like “space law” that are of limited practical use to most attorneys, there is still a set of core classes that are invariably recommended. Courses such as tax law and corporate law often fall into this group, as most lawyers will have to consider tax repercussions or the structure of a company at some point in their careers, regardless of their practice area. One big firm is now learning that despite the dearth of classes in insurance law, it is a subject that every attorney should become familiar with.
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Professional Plagiarism Leads to Copyright Claim

Clients expect professionals to work diligently on their behalf, but also want them to achieve results in a cost-effective manner. Experienced professionals are able to accomplish both ends by drawing from their knowledge base and past work product, rather than attempting to reinvent the wheel each time they undertake a new task. For instance, in the legal profession, it often behooves attorneys to begin legal research on novel issues within their firm to see if others have already addressed the issue and have analysis on hand. But attorneys may at times also find it useful to look to publicly-accessible briefs and filings from outside firms to see how others have addressed the topic. Relying on such third-party work-product, however, could be a recipe for professional liability.
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What to Report and When?

Applying for malpractice insurance is a critically important process and a necessary risk management tool. Professionals must be sure to complete the applications completely and must take steps to include all pertinent information. In a recent decision, the Northern District of Illinois concluded that an attorney omitted material information in his application and denied coverage. The result could be devastating for the attorney.
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Attorney Reprimanded for Legal Aid to In-Laws

Professionals are often approached by friends and family for advice. At times, the particular issue might not fall squarely within the professional’s area of expertise or may involve a matter outside of the jurisdiction in which they are licensed to practice. Although the matter involves a seemingly trivial task, professionals cannot forego ethical standards simply because they happen to be close with the individual seeking assistance.
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Risks Facing Local Counsel

According to a recent Law360 article co-authored by a member of PL Matters, “the practice of law can be incredibly rewarding, yet it is fraught with risk. Those risks amplify when an attorney steps outside her primary practice area or fails to effectively communicate with the client. Serving as a local counsel can be beneficial to all — client, lead, and local counsel — as long as expectations and communication are clear.”
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