What constitutes legal malpractice? While this seems like a simple question, it is not always simple to define. This is especially true when a client requests one action, but an attorney does not follow such a request. At what point does a disagreement between a client and attorney grow into a legally actionable wrong. McLaughlin v. Manos, A-2638-09T1, 2011 WL 4345814 ( N.J. Super. App. Div. 2011) is a case which acts as a limitation upon legal malpractice.
Estate of Spencer v. Gavin, 400 N.J. Super. 220 (N.J. App. Div. 2008) is a case in which the court characterized it as "a sad chronology of opportunism." The plaintiffs were beneficiaries of Madeline Spencer's estate. Madeline had retained Daniel Gavin to prepare her will, and directed her estate to retain him for any other legal matters in connection with her estate. In Madeline's will, the executor was her sister Kathryn. When Madeline passed away, Kathryn became executor, and then hired Gavin as her estate attorney. Gavin also borrowed money from Kathryn to build his law firm. His building housed another group of attorneys together known as Averna and Gardner P.C., as well as attorney Alberta Foster who were named as defendants. The main question in the lawsuit was whether knowledge of the wrongdoing by the other defendants subjected them to liability.
Legal malpractice is a difficult arena for plaintiffs. Much of the time, a case may turn on whether an expert opinion is needed or not. In other words; when is a legal decision susceptible to lay opinion, and when is a legal opinion so specialized that a legal expert is needed to evaluate the adequacy of counsel? In the case, of Szaferman, Lakind, Blumstein, Blader, & Lehmann P.C. v. Parise, A-1871-08T2, 2010 WL 624084 (N.J. Super. App. Div. 2010), the New Jersey Courts construe legal fees as an arena where expert opinion is needed, if the fee provides the basis of the suit. It is an important case because it adds and takes away from necessary pleadings in legal malpractice cases.
As discussed previously on this blog, New Jersey law often precludes recovery by a non-client against an attorney. Aside from wills, courts have also created an exception when an attorney owed a duty to a non-client by virtue of being aware of something the non-client could not have found out. Davin, L.L.C. v. Daham v. Kress et al., 329 N.J. Super. 54 (NJ Super. App. 2000) is a case with a complex set of facts, and two legal malpractice actions. The attorneys being sued were Ahmad Daham's attorneys as well as the attorneys who represented Kress.