Even the most experienced of professionals cannot predict the future. So, as a risk prevention measure, many of us turn to the next best thing by agreeing to clear contractual terms with our clients so as to eliminate confusion down the road. We spell out the terms and scope of our engagement and we identify the client’s responsibilities in an effort to avoid problems before they arise. We attempt to reach agreements today that may impact us tomorrow. According to the ABA, conflicts of …Continue Reading
Category: Engagement Letters
Limitation on Liability Clause Not Enough to Protect Accountant
Here at PL 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 …Continue Reading
Risks of Client Indemnification Agreements
Professional consultation doesn’t always go as intended. Despite good intentions, there are always risks facing professionals that the representation will turn sour and lead to a malpractice claim. Clients also face risks and some sophisticated clients take steps to reduce exposure. For example, more corporate clients are attempting to reduce exposure by requiring counsel to sign indemnification clauses within the engagement agreement. Many firms agree to represent clients pursuant to such clauses in order to develop or maintain business relationships, notwithstanding the additional risk. However, …Continue Reading
Duties to Non-Clients: The Exception, Not the Rule
The standard malpractice claim pits former client against professional. In most scenarios, the client alleges that the professional’s conduct fell below the acceptable standard and/or below the expectations set forth in the engagement contract. On occasion, non-clients test the waters and sue professionals under various theories. However, the knee-jerk defense to claims from non-clients is usually lack of privity. Lack of privity is often a successful defense but there are exceptions to the general rule. Professionals must be aware of these exceptions and take into …Continue Reading
Faulty Engagement Letters Is #1 Cause of Claims
Seriously; you still don’t require that your clients execute an engagement letter? Apparently not. Professional Liability Matters routinely warns of the risks of representing a client without a clear engagement letter. In addition to laying out the objectives of the representation, well-crafted engagement letters help to reduce the likelihood of claims from dissatisfied clients. It would seem obvious, then, that attorneys would require clients to sign an engagement letter as a prerequisite to any attorney-client relationship. However, in a recent national legal malpractice conference held …Continue Reading
Out of State Advice Leads to Out of State Liability
Professionals may be exposed to liability outside of their “home” state. For those professionals that provide interstate advice, they may be subject to the jurisdiction and laws of any state in which they practice. Take for example the recent legal malpractice case in which a Connecticut law firm was dragged into a lawsuit in Arizona because of allegedly negligent tax advice. Sure, the first rule is to avoid a lawsuit. But, a close second rule is to implement procedures such that the professional is in …Continue Reading
First Circuit Enforces Arbitration Clause in LPL Suit
Professional Liability Matters has previously advocated the benefits of a well-drafted mediation or arbitration agreement in the professional engagement letter. The judicious application of alternative dispute resolution can help to mitigate costs, expedite conflict, and preserve business relationships. Although an ADR provision can lead to efficient resolution of the substance of a professional liability suit, invoking the provision itself can sometimes lead to contentious litigation in its own right.
The question of the enforceability of an arbitration agreement in a professional engagement letter was recently …Continue Reading
The Break-Up: Knowing When the Professional Relationship is Over
All good things must come to an end…and most bad things too. The same must be true with a professional’s engagement. Professional Liability Matters has previously warned of the importance of clear engagement letters to set reasonable expectations regarding the scope of the relationship. But many professionals may take for granted the importance of clarifying when that relationship has come to an end. This is a key risk-management pointer to avoid malpractice.
A recent New York case provides clarity on the otherwise murky issue of …Continue Reading
Avoiding the Courtroom through a Mediation Clause
Litigation costs are higher today than ever. A recent Duke University survey revealed that litigation costs continue to rise and are consuming an increasing percentage of US corporate revenue. Since 2000, litigation costs have increased 73% and that increase is not due to higher hourly rates but rather more lawsuits. What is the takeaway for you Mr./Ms. Professional? Stay out of the courtroom! You’re reading Professional Liability Matters so you have adopted some risk management savvy but inevitably you are likely to confront some dispute …Continue Reading
A Disclaimer of Disclaimers – Limits on Limitation of Liability
Many classes of professionals utilize engagement letters with limitation of liability language. For example, accountants, real estate agents and home inspectors often include in their engagements a hold harmless or other clause with the goal of limiting potential damages. Such a clause will establish the extent of exposure, if any, that the professional can be held liable for should problems arise with the engagement. The question of whether the clause is enforceable is state specific and somewhat unpredictable.
A recent South Carolina decision provides …Continue Reading