Coverage Denied for Attorney Mixing Legal and Business Advice

Lawyers wear many hats; the key is not to wear them all simultaneously. Many lawyers are well versed in areas outside of the law and can be a source of non-legal knowledge for clients. However, lawyers need to be mindful when their services extend beyond the traditional landscape of legal advice. Mixing business interests and legal advice can easily get you in hot water if the transaction goes awry. Take for example the case of Burk & Reedy, LLP v. Am. Guarantee & Liab. Ins. Co., in which a professional liability insurer denied coverage for an attorney that was involved in both the legal and business aspects of a transaction.
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What’s Adverse? Conflicting Clients Considered

The Model Rules of Professional Conduct prevent lawyers from representing conflicting clients. A conflict of interest may arise when the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client. Just how far the requirement of “directly adverse” may extend was recently addressed by the Massachusetts Supreme Court in an interesting case involving IP litigation. While one inventor retained Firm to represent him on screwless eyeglass hinges another inventor had already retained Firm to secure a related patent in the screwless eyeglass market. Read on to see who got screwed.
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Partner? Associate? Of Counsel? Does it Matter for Conflict Purposes?

Pursuant to ABA Model Rule 1.10, a single attorney’s conflict of interest may be imputed to the entire law firm. The Rule provides that while lawyers are associated in a firm, none of them shall knowingly represent a client when any one of them practicing alone would be prohibited from doing so under the Rules. It is not uncommon for lawyers to have different associations with a particular firm—for example the term “of counsel” is often used to designate a role different from the traditional partner or associate positions. This may beg the question what level of involvement must an attorney have in order to be “associated with” a particular firm for conflicts purposes. A recent case out of the U.S. District Court of New Jersey involving a “seconded” attorney addressed just this issue.
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Pro Bono Malpractice?

Pro bono activities are not unfamiliar to most attorneys. Many attorneys will volunteer their time with organizations that provide pro bono legal services to those who could not otherwise afford legal representation. Most jurisdictions permit volunteer attorneys to be on a list of counsel that the court may appoint when a party is in need of representation. Some states may even assign attorneys in good standing to a court appointed representation. What happens though when that court appointed attorney allegedly commits malpractice in the course of the pro bono representation? A recent case out of Illinois addressed this scenario in the context of a court appointed child representative.
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Fee Shifting in Malpractice Cases

The concept of fee shifting in the field of legal malpractice may not be well known or understood if you don’t practice in New Jersey. That is because New Jersey is one of the only states to employ this unique fee structure. The so-called “Saffer rule” was created by the NJ Supreme Court decision in Saffer v. Willoughby, in which the Court held that clients may recover as consequential damages the legal expenses and attorneys’ fees they incur in prosecuting a malpractice claim against their former attorney. Recently, the NJ Supreme Court heard oral argument in the case of Innes v. Marzano-Lesnevich, to determine whether attorney-defendants can be liable for attorneys' fees as consequential damages to a non-client under Saffer.
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High Times: Ethics of Marijuana Advice

Marijuana laws in the US are rapidly changing. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have legalized marijuana outright for recreational use. Twenty more states and the District of Columbia have legalized the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Now, the Pennsylvania legislature has proposed a new law that would permit limited medical marijuana use. Despite these changes at the state level, marijuana is still classified under federal law as a Schedule I drug that has no accepted medical use. Inconsistencies between state and federal laws create potential ethics dilemmas for professionals who seek to advise clients operating in the marijuana industry. In order to assist professionals navigate this murky legal landscape, the Pennsylvania Bar Association Legal Ethics and Professional Responsibility Committee recently issued a formal ethics opinion directed to counsel who provide legal services to marijuana-related businesses.
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For Whom the Claim Tolls

Knowing the applicable statute of limitations for your case is critical for every attorney. In the world of legal malpractice, there are many variables in play: the jurisdiction, the facts, tolling and the extent of the underlying representation. Therefore, it’s important for attorneys to know the various nuances of the statute of limitations doctrine in their jurisdiction. For this reason, attorneys will want to take note of a recent decision out of the South Carolina Supreme Court that overruled precedent on when a legal malpractice claim begins to run.
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Fired but Still on the Hook

Most attorneys don’t end their careers in the same place they started. Rather, many attorneys make a move or two which may require the transfer of files and clients. When an attorney transfers a file to a new firm, the prior firm must maintain certain ethical obligations. Model RPC 1.16 provides that a lawyer must provide notice when terminating a representation and take steps to the extent reasonably practicable to protect a client's interests. Therefore, professional obligations are not always terminated as soon as the client ends the relationship. The following example demonstrates how failure to timely withdraw from a case after the attorney-client relationship ended resulted in a claim of malpractice.
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In-House Counsel Fired for Compliance with Ethical Rules

Ever hear the joke about the in-house attorney who was fired for complying with the Rules of Professional Conduct? It’s no joke. Model Rule 1.13(b) provides that if in-house counsel knows that an employee is violating a law that may be imputed to the employer, the lawyer must proceed in the best interest of the employer. But, complying with that rule may result in backlash for the attorney. Take for example the following case, in which the Utah Supreme Court considered whether the rule creates a public policy exception to at-will employment to prevent companies from terminating in-house counsel for reporting illegal activity to management.
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Lessons from a Bravo Star’s Malpractice Suit

Clients will usually say “Bravo!” when you exhibit diligence, zealous advocacy, and candor in your legal representation. But what happens when a client makes a misrepresentation to you or engages in criminal or fraudulent conduct during the course of your representation? What are your duties with regard to assessing the validity of a client’s statements, or the legality of their actions? A recent legal malpractice lawsuit filed by imprisoned “Real Housewives of New Jersey” star Teresa Giudice has thrown these questions into the limelight.
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