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CT: Standard of Care Defined by Relevant Jurisdiction, Not by Local Customs

Traystman, Coric and Keramidas v. Hundley, 925 A.2d 1161 (2007), 102 Conn.App. 490

CT: Underlying dissolution of marriage 

Student Contributor: Nicholas Kingsbury

Facts: The former attorney sued the client for the attorney’s fee owed, and the client counter-claimed alleging legal malpractice. The trial court ruled in favor of the attorney, and the client appealed claiming that the jury was improperly instructed on legal malpractice. The jury was instructed that in order to avoid committing malpractice, an attorney must be familiar with both local customs and state-wide customs of law. The client claims that such and instruction caused the jury to disregard the testimony from the client’s expert witness (who was not from the local area of CT) in favor of the testimony from the attorney’s expert witness (who was from the local area).

Issue: Did injustice result from the improper jury instruction that the standard of care required the practicing attorney to know “local customs” of law instead of just state-wide customs of law?

Ruling: No. Although it was technically an error for the jury to be instructed that an attorney must be knowledgeable on both local and state-wide customs, instead of just state-wide customs, that error provided no detriment to the client’s case. The error was small, and actually put an extra burden upon the former attorney to prove that he was familiar with both state and local law in this issue.

Lesson: The requirement that an attorney know the local customs of law is “not often applied with respect to legal malpractice in any event, and has largely gone out of favor with respect to most professional malpractice claims." The appropriate standard of care is legal representation compared to that of a competent lawyer in that same “jurisdiction.” 

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Posted in: Connecticut