AOM Failure Closes the Door, but for How Long?

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.
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Public and Private E-mails Don’t Mix

Hillary Clinton recently made headlines for using her personal email account for business purposes during her tenure as Secretary of State. This high profile example provides us with an opportunity to reflect upon what is commonplace for some. It can be tempting for employees to use personal email accounts to conduct corporate business, particularly when working remotely. However, the highly sensitive nature of Clinton’s job raised questions over the security of using a non-work email account to transmit information. Depending on the nature of your job or the emails that you send, there are risks when mixing personal and business e-mails.
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Does Privity Matter? Yup, According to a Recent Dismissal

Attorneys may be prepared for, or at the very least are aware of the risk of, claims raised by current or former clients. Generally, the first element in any malpractice claim is the existence of an attorney-client relationship. The Restatement (Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers provides that an attorney-client relationship arises when, “a person manifests to a lawyer the person's intent that the lawyer provide legal services for the person; and either (a) the lawyer manifests to the person consent to do so; or (b) the lawyer fails to manifest lack of consent to do so, and the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the person reasonably relies on the lawyer to provide the services.” That seems straightforward enough, right? Nope! While in many malpractice cases it is clear whether the parties established an attorney-client relationship, it is not often so clear. Consider the following example.
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No More “Signing” on the Dotted Line

E-mails rule the business world. Due in part to the sheer volume of e-mails we receive, many professionals use standardized email signatures, which are automatically inserted at the bottom of an email. The shift to more transactions occurring by email raises the question: what constitutes a legally binding signature? A recent decision by the California Court of Appeals addressed the issue of when an e-mail may constitute a binding signature. The decision underscores the importance of understanding the validity of electronic signatures and the statutory requirements for your jurisdiction.
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No Merit for Outsiders

Many states have enacted some version of an “affidavit of merit” (AOM) requirement for professional malpractice claims. We've blogged in the past about the significance of affidavit of merit requirements, including the potential advantages from a defense perspective when a plaintiff fails to comply with the applicable state statute. Professionals involved in malpractice suits will want to take note of a recent decision by a New Jersey appeals court, which addressed the state’s affidavit of merit statute and limited affidavits of merit to the same professional field at issue.
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Tis the Season of Gift Giving (Policies)

Whether it’s a fruit basket from a vendor or an employee gift exchange, it’s that time of year when the approaching holidays can stir up a frenzy of gift giving in the office. Many companies find themselves struggling to define what is appropriate, fair and festive when it comes to holiday gift giving. Certainly no one wants to be a Grinch, but creating a clear gift policy ahead of time is an easy way to avoid controversy and liability. Consider the following tips when creating a company gift policy.
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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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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 account non-clients who may have standing to assert a malpractice claim.
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Know When to Hold ‘Em, When to Close ‘Em

Although not nearly as satisfying, in many ways closing a file is just as important to a professional as opening one. How and when to close a file is a component of best practices. Most professionals follow some document retention protocol (and if you don't, you should). But an interesting wrinkle arises when it's not entirely clear when the engagement has come to an end. Some cases are withdrawn, some clients sign an engagement letter but do not pursue the claim, some clients decide to retain new counsel without documenting the decision. To take into account these uncertainties, professionals must implement safeguards to monitor each client relationship and, when necessary, to document that the professional relationship has ended. By keeping files up-to-date, both old and new, professionals can help to avoid many hazards and ethical dilemmas.
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