A New Jersey appeals court recently ruled that a disbarred attorney cannot sue his former attorney for malpractice in connection with a fee dispute. In an unpublished opinion in the case of Schildiner v. Toscano, the Appellate Division upheld a decision from the Essex County Superior Court dismissing the lawsuit filed by the disbarred lawyer ("Lawyer"), against the firm he hired, ("Law Firm").
Many business deals begin with a handshake or a quiet conversation. Corporate America is filled with side deals and compromise and promises. Often, these arrangements are perfectly acceptable. But, the intersection between business and politics is a different animal; there are strict regulations regarding governmental contracts and bids and proposals. Transparency is key. Attorneys engaged by governmental contractors must be careful. The recent indictment of a Pennsylvania mayor and an outside attorney in what is being alleged as a pay-to-play scheme is a reminder of the fine line attorneys must walk. In addition to the target-attorney being named, the indictment is littered with references to other attorneys allegedly involved in the scheme. This involvement spans from contributions to the mayor’s various campaigns to presence at meetings to discuss city contracts. While many clients may battle for the throne, attorneys must steer clear of even the appearance of impropriety.
Attorneys consistently provide guidance to clients, but not all of the consultation may be considered legal advice. Often an attorney’s role extends beyond the boundaries of legal advice and into other topics such as general business advice. When this occurs, the definition of what constitutes “legal advice” can become blurred, which has implications on privilege. In the recently released decision in Harrington v. Freedom of Information Commission, et al., the Connecticut Supreme Court examined this issue in detail. According to the court, the case “provides an opportunity to address the circumstances under which communications relating to both non-legal and legal advice may be covered by the attorney-client privilege.”
Many professionals are proud of their work-product, their reputation, and their capabilities. Along those lines, many professionals are sensitive of their public image, including their online presence. Therefore, when others post critical reviews of a professional on social media, it may be tempting to respond in a defensive manner. But, be careful.
Nobody wants to be named as a defendant in a lawsuit. Litigation is expensive, time-consuming, upsetting, and often intimidating for clients. Being dragged into a suit is even more frustrating when the defendant knows the claims are entirely without merit. Defendants who are the victim of frivolous litigation are not without recourse, however. Where the underlying lawsuit is unwarranted, without evidentiary support, or presented for an improper purpose, such as harassment or delay, defendants may have the opportunity to seek damages against the plaintiff and the lawyers who brought the claim.
New Jersey is known for its beaches and its tomatoes. In the malpractice community, New Jersey is also known for its unique rules on fee shifting. New Jersey allows successful litigants in attorney malpractice suits to recover as consequential damages the legal expenses and attorneys’ fees they incur in prosecuting the claim. We previously reported on the case of Innes v. Marzano-Lesnevich, pending before the New Jersey Supreme Court that could potentially expand the rules on fee shifting in malpractice cases. Well, the New Jersey Supreme Court has spoken and any attorney practicing in New Jersey should be aware of the outcome.
It is a risk management necessity that professionals document their files appropriately and confirm conversations in writing. A recent NY decision goes further, and suggests that it may be wise to save original documents to reduce the likelihood of a spoliation argument. In that decision, the Appellate Division, Second Department of New York considered whether a former client was entitled to evaluate an original document to determine whether her fingerprints were on a settlement offer.
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.
Technology is rapidly changing the manner in which businesses operate. This is equally true for professionals, who must incorporate and adapt to technological advances in order to thrive in a competitive marketplace. However, keeping up to date with technology is not merely a matter of protecting the bottom line. Professionals who fail to stay on the cutting edge could violate ethics rules and jeopardize their client’s interests.
To minimize frivolous professional malpractice claims, many states have enacted affidavit of merit statutes. The range and substance of these statutes can be dizzying; indeed, that’s why we recently published a handy table with requirements and resources for each state. The AOM rules provide defense attorneys with an important tool to help defend malpractice claims in certain jurisdictions. In the extreme scenario, dismissal may be appropriate due to a faulty, lacking or late AOM. But, the question remains, whether the plaintiff has the opportunity to cure that defect and continue with the litigation.
It’s that time of year again. Every summer, SuperLawyers® publishes its list of the “top” attorneys and Rising Stars across the country. Many attorneys included in the publication incorporate the designation into their biographies or otherwise notify clients and prospects of the honor. Like any form of attorney marketing, however, attorneys must be careful to comply with the applicable ethical rules governing advertising when referencing SuperLawyers®.
Client billing and fee disputes are at the heart of a significant percentage of all malpractice claims brought against attorneys each year. There are myriad courses and guides for ethical billing available for all professionals yet lawsuits and administrative complaints abound regarding billing issues. However, even the most well-intentioned attorneys encounter situations where the “rules” of client billing are not crystal clear; perhaps none moreso than the debate regarding billing for travel.
The workplace is often incredibly uncomfortable following an employee’s claim of work-related discrimination. The employer must balance its goal of productivity and profit while maintaining employee morale and equality on the job. At times, an employer facing a charge of discrimination may feel hamstrung by the looming charge and may permit employee conduct that was otherwise sanctionable out of fear of what may be perceived as retaliation against the employee for filing a charge. But, as the recent decision out of the Seventh Circuit proves, a charge of discrimination does not provide the employee with free rein to violate work-place protocol.
Our recent post on the ramifications of destroying social media content got us thinking about the importance of an effective legal hold letter. Also known as a “preservation” or “hold” order, this document instructs an entity or individual to preserve all data that may reasonably relate to pending or anticipated litigation. A goal of the litigation hold is to suspend the normal dispositions of records and to prevent spoliation. Another goal is to avoid the potential for sanctions and ethical issues facing those who destroy relevant content. Given the importance of a legal hold, and the serious ramifications for failing to comply, all professionals must be aware of the contents of a proper legal hold.
One million dollars of coverage for $100 million in losses? Unfortunately, that appears to be the case for the West, Texas fertilizer plant that recently exploded. Reportedly the owners of West Fertilizer Co. hold a negligible amount of insurance compared to the estimated cost of the damage caused by the blast. The plant did not hold excess or umbrella insurance policies. The fact that the company’s owner has not breached any applicable regulation has been the subject of heated debate on the national level regarding regulating mandatory insurance coverage for companies that handle hazardous materials.
As is so often the case, with mounting pressure and criticism comes finger-pointing. In the midst of a well-publicized scandal, Rutgers University is now suggesting that poor advice from its outside counsel led to a series of infamous decisions regarding its former basketball coach. According to reports, as Rutgers' athletic director Tim Pernetti resigned Friday amid the scandal over men’s basketball coach Mike Rice’s unorthodox practices, he blamed the school administration for following a “process” that allowed Rice to stay on-board. With its back against the wall, Rutgers laid part of the blame on the Roseland, New Jersey law firm that allegedly balked at recommending Rice’s termination.
The evolving Jerry Sandusky scandal continues to impact the professional liability community. Most recently, the Middle District of Pennsylvania reached a decision with major implications on the application of D&O - Director’s and Officer’s Insurance. In deciding that Sandusky’s acts occurred outside the scope of his role with the Second Mile even though the conduct occurred during Second Mile events, the court may have also exposed directors and officers to increased risk of personal exposure.