Legal malpractice can be a very confusing area, especially when it comes to non-clients. Ultimately, not knowing the rules could affect an attorney’s professional license.
When does an attorney owe a duty of care to non clients, and can a non client file a legal malpractice claim?
During the course of an attorney’s representation of a client, it is possible for legal malpractice to occur during the preparation of documents, investigation of the case, defense, prosecution, appeal, and more. When an attorney neglects to implement the prudence, diligence, skill, and ethics that attorneys ordinally use in their profession, legal malpractice could be a factor. In addition to being held liable for legal malpractice of a client’s’ case, it may be possible to be held liable to a non client under certain circumstances.
No Liability to a Non Client – In general an attorney cannot be held for legal malpractice against a non client. This is because an attorney cannot breach a duty of care when there was no actual attorney/client relationship.
Liability to a Non Client – In certain states and jurisdictions, and under very special circumstances, a non client may file a legal malpractice suit against an attorney.
Intended Beneficiary – When a non client was the intended beneficiary of a client of an attorney, a legal malpractice claim might be pursued. An example of this is when an attorney did not draft a trust correctly for a client; thus affecting the intended beneficiary.
Foreseeable Reliance Exception – One recognized rule to non clients and legal malpractice claims is when an attorney’s services to a client were conducted with the purpose of influencing non clients to rely upon the services rendered. For instance if an attorney provides a letter of opinion regarding the financial and legal standing of a client with the intention of influencing potential lenders or property buyers, the attorney could be held negligent to the non clients who relied on the information provided in the letter, but suffered a loss in doing so.
Fiduciary Relationship – Another way a non client might pursue legal malpractice against an attorney is when there is an established fiduciary relationship. An example of this is when an attorney has a relationship with a company and he or she has a fiduciary duty to the board directors. If the attorney’s services, and duty, to the company causes the board directors loss, he could be sued for legal malpractice.
Intentional Torts – In some cases an attorney can be sued for legal malpractice when they have committed an intentional tort against a non client. As the attorneys at Cohen & Cohen can explain, this non client is often the opposing party of his or her client. A claim might be brought against the attorney if it is alleged that he or she misused their profession, and the legal process, for any purpose other than securing the desired result for his or client. Fraud, malicious behavior or actions, and intentional misrepresentation are common allegations made by non clients in these circumstances. In this specific type of claim, emotional distress might also be included.
If you need to clarify a grey situation regarding legal malpractice or are concerned about your professional license, talk to an attorney today.
This blog is meant to provide information on current news and general information. It is not intended to constitute legal advice, nor is any attorney-client relationship established by its posting on this website. If you are facing a situation that involves your professional license, consult with a licensed attorney.