In a case handed down by the US District Court, legal malpractice actions were clarified. The Court reaffirmed that there must be an attorney client relationship: an “implied” attorney client relationship is not valid, nor is there any “duty” owed to a non client. One of the fundamental aspects to any legal malpractice claim is that the lawyer owed a duty to the client. In the United States District Court decision, the Court held that because the defendant lawyers never owed any “duty” to the plaintiff, they could not be responsible for committing legal malpractice.
The “duty” owed is to provide legal advice and skills according to accepted professional standards. (Malpractice means that the lawyer has breached his or her duty, causing harm to the client.) When a fee agreement between the client and lawyer is signed by both sides, a “duty” clearly arises. When an attorney enters an appearance in court for a client, a “duty” arises. When an attorney and client meet, discuss the client’s issue, advice is given, a “duty” is clearly owed to the client.
There are many common mistaken “duty” arguments by our potential clients. A classic one is that the client feels that during the course of a divorce, probate, business or other dispute, the other party’s attorney committed malpractice. Unfortunately, that attorney did not owe any duty to our potential client. While that attorney may have acted inappropriately, may have misled the parties or the court, or some other unhelpful deed, that attorney could never owe a legal “duty” to our potential client.