NY: claim for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty
Facts: Plaintiff brought an action against Frank, a partner in defendant law firm, alleging that he committed legal malpractice and breached his fiduciary duty to plaintiff during the course of his representation by acting in such a way that conflicted with plaintiff’s interests. Throughout the course of heavy motion practice by both plaintiff and defendant, defendant cross-moved for partial summary judgment dismissing the first cause of action, which was an action for breach of fiduciary duty, as duplicative of the second cause of action, which was an action for legal malpractice. This motion was denied, and defendant appealed.
Issue: Was defendant’s cross-motion for partial summary judgment properly denied?
Ruling: Yes. “A cause of action for legal malpractice must be based on the existence of an attorney-client relationship at the time of the alleged malpractice.” The fiduciary duty of an attorney, however, “extends both to current clients and former clients and thus is broader in scope than a cause of action for legal malpractice.” Thus, a cause of action for legal malpractice based upon alleged misconduct occurring during the attorney’s representation of the plaintiff is not duplicative of a cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty based upon alleged misconduct occurring after the termination of the representation.
Lesson: A client can bring actions for both legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty against his or her attorney without the claims being duplicative of one another if the behavior upon which the claim for breach of fiduciary duty is based occurs after the attorney-client relationship has been effectively terminated.
Posted in: New York