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Avoldlng Legal Malpracuce ln

lamlly Law Mauers

Ld CllnLon, !r.
1he CllnLon Law llrm
Some 8aslc rlnclples
Communlcauon: remember Lo reLurn calls and
emall messages, preferably wlLhln 24 hours.
As one commenLaLor noLed, cllenLs rarely
complaln LhaL Lhelr lawyer was Loo responslve
Lo Lhelr communlcauons. A fallure Lo
communlcaLe can have dlsasLrous resulLs.
1he LngagemenL Leuer
Agaln, everyone should have an engagemenL
leuer explalnlng whaL Lhe lawyer has agreed
Lo do and Lhe amounL LhaL Lhe lawyer charges
on an hourly basls.
Conslder addlng a senLence LhaL lawyer does
noL agree Lo underLake any appeal of an
adverse declslon unless cllenL and lawyer
enLer lnLo a separaLe engagemenL agreemenL.
uocumenL lmporLanL Conversauons
Legal malpracuce lnsurers consLanLly wrlLe
arucles abouL Lhe need Lo documenL declslons.
Cne way Lo do Lhls wlLhouL lncurrlng cllenL wraLh
ls Lo wrlLe Memorandum Lo Lhe llle sLaung whaL
occurred ln Lhe conversauon. Aer dlscusslon,
cllenL elecLed Lo walve hls lnLeresL ln hls wlfe's
penslon so LhaL we can resolve Lhe case." A
memo Lo Lhe le or a handwrluen noLe oen
provldes a defense Lo a clalm agalnsL Lhe lawyer.
Legal Malpracuce
Ceneral 8ule: lalnu musL show LhaL (a) Lhe
defendanL auorney owed Lhe cllenL a duLy of
due care arlslng from Lhe auorney-cllenL
relauonshlp, (b) Lhe defendanL breached LhaL
duLy, and (c) Lhe defendanL's breach was Lhe
proxlmaLe cause of Lhe plalnu's ln[ury. 1rl-C,
lnc. v. 8urke, 8osselman & Weaver, 222 lll. 2d
218, 223-26 (2006).
1he LlmlLauons rovlslons
1he SLaLuLe of LlmlLauons ls Lwo years from
Lhe daLe of dlscovery of Lhe ln[ury, 733 lLCS
1he SLaLuLe of 8epose bars any clalm arlslng
ouL of an acL by Lhe lawyer LhaL ls more Lhan
slx years old.733 lLCS 3/13-214(3)(c).
Always 8emember
lf you sue Lhe cllenL for fees, you walve Lhe
sLaLuLe of llmlLauons. See 733 lLCS Secuon

1he SLandard ln Llugauon
ln llugauon, Lhe plalnu musL prove buL-for
causauon: buL for Lhe negllgence of Lhe
auorney, Lhe plalnu would have prevalled ln
Lhe underlylng case.
8uL lor Causauon
1rl-C v. 8urke, 8osselman & Weaver, 836 n.L.2d
389, 222 lll. 2d 218 (2006). 1rl-C alleged LhaL Lhe
law rm had falled Lo dlllgenLly prosecuLe a clalm
agalnsL anoLher parLy, Llgln lederal. 1he CourL
held: where Lhe alleged legal malpracuce
lnvolves llugauon, no acuonable clalm exlsLs
unless Lhe auorney's negllgence resulLed ln Lhe
loss of an underlylng cause of acuon." 1o sausfy
Lhls requlremenL, Lhe plalnu musL lnLroduce
proof aL Lrlal LhaL lL would have won Lhe
underlylng case.
Llugauon Lxamples
1he mosL obvlous example ls a lawyer who
mlsses Lhe sLaLuLe of llmlLauons on a clalm.
Lven where Lhe sLaLuLe of llmlLauons was
mlssed, Lhe plalnu musL prove LhaL Lhe
underlylng case could have been won and
musL submlL such proof Lo Lhe courL.
So, ln a personal ln[ury mauer, Lhe plalnu
has Lo submlL sumclenL proof Lo prove Lhe
WhaL uo Malpracuce Lawyers Look
Malpracuce lawyers look for
(a) a clear mlsLake by Lhe lawyer,
(b) LhaL caused real harm Lo Lhe cllenL, and
(c) for whlch damages can be proven.
Malpracuce Lawyers Avold
AnyLhlng lnvolvlng a close call, an exerclse of
[udgmenL or good falLh hard work LhaL ls
Malpracuce lawyers reallze LhaL 30 of all
cases LhaL are Lrled are losL and LhaL lL ls noL
negllgence Lo lose a case.
needless Lo say
Malpracuce lawyers won'L geL lnvolved wlLh
crazy people such as men who are lnvolved
wlLh domesuc vlolence or some oLher bad
Malpracuce lawyers wlll be relucLanL Lo accepL
a cllenL who had several prlor lawyers.
lamlly Law Mauers Are ulerenL
llrsL, Lhere ls no sLaLuLe of llmlLauons on a
dlvorce proceedlng. 1hus, Lhe lawyer cannoL
mlss Lhe sLaLuLe of llmlLauons.
Second, legal malpracuce courLs are relucLanL
Lo geL lnvolved and second guess declslons
LhaL are based on Lhe courL's sound
dlscreuon, parucularly cusLody deLermlnauons
whlch are based on Lhe besL lnLeresLs of Lhe

Lxamples of ulscreuonary Mauers
1here are few, lf any, legal malpracuce cases
challenglng cusLody deLermlnauons. lL ls very
hard Lo lmaglne a courL awardlng moneLary
damages Lo a famlly law lluganL because LhaL
person losL cusLody of a chlld.
8ouom Llne: malpracuce clalms wlll focus on Lhe
economlc lssues ln Lhe dlvorce case.
ulscreuon Conunued
As long as Lhe famlly law courL held a Lrlal, or
Lhe parues agreed Lo a seulemenL, lL ls hard Lo
lmaglne Lhe plalnu meeung Lhe burden Lo
show LhaL buL for Lhe lawyer's negllgence, she
would have won cusLody of her mlnor chlld.
A CourL of LqulLy
Cne CourL explalned LhaL: LsLabllshlng
causauon ln a legal malpracuce case arlslng
from a dlvorce acuon presenLs unlque
concepLual dlmculues. ConLesLed dlvorce
cases are declded by a [udge slmng ln equlLy,
gulded by sLaLuLes, and Lo a lesser exLenL, Lhe
common law." Saron v. LlharL, Mlchlgan
CourL of Appeals 2012 (unpubllshed oplnlon).
AnoLher Purdle - LxperL 1esumony
Any legal malpracuce clalm requlres an experL
wlLness who can explaln whaL Lhe duLy of care
was and how Lhe duLy of care was breached.
1he leadlng case ln llllnols ls 8arLh v. 8eagan, 139
lll. 2d 399 (1990), whlch was declded by Lhe
llllnols Supreme CourL. 1he case sLands for Lhe
proposluon LhaL Lhe plalnu ln a legal
malpracuce acuon musL presenL Lhe Lesumony of
an experL Lo esLabllsh Lhe sLandard of care.
WhaL 1ype of LxperL?
ln lamlly Law cases Lhe plalnu wlll need a
famlly law lawyer who ls experlenced enough
Lo provlde Lesumony concernlng Lhe sLandard
of care ln Lhe eld.
lf Lhe case lnvolves a penslon or Cu8C lssue,
Lhe experL wlll have Lo be able Lo compeLenLly
Lesufy as Lo Lhe sLandard of care on LhaL
parucular lssue.
Speclc Lrrors
1he nexL few slldes wlll dlscuss some speclc
errors LhaL courLs have found are acuonable.
uuLy of CompeLence
Whlle you can'L geL sued for mlsslng Lhe sLaLuLe of
llmlLauons, you can be sued for Lhe fallure Lo geL Lhe
case ready for Lrlal.
neuleLon v.SLogsdlll, 899 n.L.2d 1232 (2d ulsL. 2008).
Lawyer led a dlvorce case buL dld noL submlL any
proof aL Lrlal causlng Lhe case Lo be dlsmlssed. 1he
courL held LhaL Lhe legal fees lncurred ln Lhe
proceedlng could be recovered as damages.
See also Cruccl v. 8ablnowlLz, new ?ork case (lawyers
negllgenLly falled Lo serve Lhe dlvorce complalnL
resulung ln dlsmlssal).
lallure Lo ConducL ulscovery
llllnols has form famlly law lnLerrogaLorles
LhaL have been approved by Lhe llllnols
Supreme CourL.
1he fallure Lo Lake baslc nanclal dlscovery ls
a breach of Lhe sLandard of care and can come
back Lo haunL Lhe lawyer.
13.3.1 ulsclosures
ln Cook CounLy every lluganL ls requlred Lo
compleLe a 13.3.1 nanclal dlsclosure
sLaLemenL. uo noL leL cllenL walve Lhls
requlremenL. Lven lf Lhe cllenL have no
money, lL does noL mauer. 1he cllenL and Lhe
spouse can compleLe Lhese sLaLemenLs on
Lhelr own and exchange Lhem.
lallure Lo lnvesugaLe AsseLs of Spouse
1hls ls Lhe mosL common Lype of legal
malpracuce clalm dlrecLed agalnsL dlvorce
lawyers. Wolfe v. Wolfe 874 n.L.2d 382
1he plalnu clalms LhaL Lhe auorney falled Lo
nd an asseL and LhaL plalnu would have
recelved a beuer seulemenL had Lhe asseL
been dlscovered.
roblem: lew LluganLs Can ay lor
Cne of Lhe blggesL lssues ln famlly law ls Lhe
aordablllLy of dlscovery. Many cllenLs cannoL
aord dlscovery.
osslble Soluuon
Cne opuon ls Lo puL a paragraph ln Lhe
engagemenL leuer dlscusslng Lhls problem.
CllenL has lnformed lawyer LhaL he ls condenL
LhaL he has a full undersLandlng of wlfe's nances.
CllenL has elecLed Lo forgo Laklng formal dlscovery
ln Lhls mauer Lo reduce Lhe expense of Lhe
AnoLher Soluuon
WrlLe Lo cllenL LhaL Lawyer has lnformed
cllenL LhaL wlLhouL conducung formal
dlscovery lncludlng lnLerrogaLorles, requesLs
Lo admlL and deposluons, Lhere ls no way of
fully undersLandlng Lhe spouse's nances."
arenLage Case
Lven ln Lhese cases, you wanL Lo make sure
LhaL Lhe cllenL has a full undersLandlng of Lhe
nances of Lhe oLher parLy.
ln 8e ColdsmlLh
1hls ls an lmporLanL case for dlvorce lawyers.
1he parues agreed Lo Lhe enLry of a [udgmenL
for dlssoluuon of marrlage. no formal
dlscovery was done. lnsLead, each parLy
represenLed and warranLed LhaL a full and
compleLe dlsclosure of hls or her properLy had
been made Lo Lhe oLher." 962 n.L.2d 317 (1

ulsL. 2012).
ln re ColdsmlLh
A year and a half laLer, !acquellne dlscovered
addluonal marlLal asseLs worLh $3 mllllon. She
led a Secuon 1401 peuuon Lo vacaLe Lhe
1he Lrlal courL denled Lhe peuuon because
she dld noL exerclse due dlllgence.
A roblemauc Poldlng
Poldlng: (a) asseLs were noL marlLal properLy,
(b) !acquellne dld noL meeL Lhe due dlllgence
requlremenL of Secuon 1401. When a dlvorce
parLy elecLs Lo forgo formal dlscovery ln favor
of accepung a represenLauon and warranLy of
full and compleLe dlsclosure, Lhe parLy does so
aL hls or her own perll."
oorly 8easoned
1he ColdsmlLh declslon ls poorly reasoned. ln
a conLracL, each parLy ls enuLled Lo rely on Lhe
represenLauons of Lhe oLher parLy and Lo
llugaLe lf Lhose represenLauons are laLer
found Lo be unLrue.
1he CourL's oplnlon dlsregards baslc conLracL
law prlnclples and ls Loo conservauve.
1he 8ouom Llne
1he holdlng of ColdsmlLh lmplles LhaL a lawyer
has a duLy Lo conducL dlscovery and LhaL Lhe
fallure Lo conducL dlscovery demonsLraLes a
lack of due dlllgence.
8ouom llne: ColdsmlLh ls a malpracuce Lrap.
Lrrors AL 1rlal
1o recover for an error aL Lrlal, Lhe plalnu has
Lo show LhaL Lhe error was slgnlcanL and
caused plalnu Lo lose a clalm.
lrom 1exas Lhere ls Lhls case - Lhe lawyer
falled Lo lnLroduce evldence LhaL a house was
communlLy properLy. Caspard v. WesLer
lalllng 1o CompleLe Lhe SeulemenL
MosL cases seule. Cen errors can occur
where Lhe parues reach an agreemenL and Lhe
lawyer agrees Lo Lake care a few loose ends
aer Lhe seulemenL. 1he lawyer Lhen forgeLs
Lo compleLe Lhe work he or she agreed Lo do.
Co over your les - Lhlnk abouL wheLher or
noL you have forgouen Lo do someLhlng.
8eal LsLaLe
A clalm could be broughL lf a lawyer forgeLs Lo
compleLe Lhe Lransfer of real esLaLe or a
marlLal asseL and pre[udlce resulLs Lo Lhe
1he ersonal CuaranLee
Lxample: 1he Lawyer falls Lo remove Lhe ex-wlfe as a guaranLor
of husband's buslness obllgauons. 1he case ls McCormlck v.
Shore, 277 3d 367 (2012) declded by Lhe ldaho Supreme CourL.
uurlng Lhe marrlage, wlfe personally guaranLeed some of
husband's buslness debLs. 1he dlvorce decree asslgns Lhose
llablllues Lo Pusband. Wlfe's lawyer agrees Lo remove her from
all personal guaranLees by wrlung leuers Lo Lhe varlous
8uL, lawyer forgeLs Lo revoke Lhe personal guaranLees.
Sadly, Pusband goes broke and CredlLors sue Wlfe on Lhe
personal guaranLees. 1he Supreme CourL of ldaho amrmed Lhe
[udgmenL agalnsL Lhe lawyer.
An lncreaslngly common clalm ls a clalm LhaL
Lhe lawyer neglecLed Lo (a) obLaln an award of
penslon beneLs, or (b) neglecLed Lo compleLe
Lhe requlred paperwork Lo obLaln Lhose
lf you are noL an experL ln dralng a C8uC, nd
someone who ls. A poorly draed Cu8C can
become a malpracuce clalm.
8emember ln re Marrlage of Culp, 936 n.L.2d
1040. ln 1999, Lhe [udgmenL sLaLed LhaL Lhe
courL reLalned [urlsdlcuon for Lhe purpose of
enLerlng a Cu8C. 1en years laLer wlfe
peuuoned Lhe courL Lo enLer such an order
and was successful.
Message - reLaln [urlsdlcuon over Cu8C
osslble uefenses
1here are several defenses LhaL should be
consldered, lncludlng Lhe sLaLuLe of llmlLauons
and Lhe sLaLuLe of repose.
1he SLaLuLe of LlmlLauons ls Lwo years from Lhe
daLe of dlscovery of Lhe ln[ury.
1he SLaLuLe of 8epose ls 6 years from Lhe
negllgenL acL of Lhe lawyer.
lamlly Law uefenses
1here may be some unlque defenses LhaL
dlvorce lawyers can use, buL Lhose defenses
are conLroverslal.
rove-up uefense
Several years ago, Lhe new !ersey Supreme
CourL declded Lhe case
!"#$% '( )"$*+$,- 183 .(/( 428, 874 0(2d 334
(2003). ln LhaL case Lhe courL held LhaL a
plalnu who Lesues LhaL she recelved an
accepLable, falr and volunLary seulemenL of
her dlvorce case could noL Lhereaer sue her
lawyers for malpracuce.
AnoLher Cpuon
Some lawyers puL language ln Lhe MarlLal
SeulemenL AgreemenL - sLaung LhaL Lhe cllenL
undersLood Lhe nanclal aalrs of Lhelr
As a plalnu, l would say Lhls language ls only as
good as Lhe legal work behlnd lL or Lhe
documenLauon ln Lhe lawyer's le.
!udlclal LsLoppel?
Can Lhe lawyer use a [udlclal esLoppel
argumenL on Lhe ground LhaL Lhe cllenL
agreed, ln Lhe [udgmenL or aL Lhe prove-up,
LhaL he or she recelved full and compleLe
Answer: osslbly.
Wolfe v. Wolfe
"[udlclal esLoppel provldes LhaL a parLy who
asserLs a parucular posluon ln a legal
proceedlng ls esLopped from asserung a
conLrary posluon ln a subsequenL legal
proceedlng." ld. aL 383.
Wolfe v. Wolfe conL.
lor [udlclal esLoppel Lo apply "ve elemenLs musL
be presenL: (1) Lhe parLy esLopped musL have
Laken Lwo posluons, (2) LhaL are facLually
lnconslsLenL, (3) ln a separaLe [udlclal or quasl-
[udlclal admlnlsLrauve proceedlng, (4) lnLendlng
Lhe Lrler of facL Lo accepL Lhe LruLh of Lhe facLs
alleged, and (3) have succeeded ln Lhe rsL
proceedlng and recelved a beneL Lhereby."
1he CourL re[ecLed [udlclal esLoppel because Lhe
clalms were noL LoLally lnconslsLenL.
ConLrlbuuon Clalms
uon'L forgeL conLrlbuuon clalms.
Coran v. Clleberman, 639 n.L.2d 36, 276 lll.
App. 3d 390 (lll. App. 1sL ulsL. 1993) (reverslng
dlsmlssal of a conLrlbuuon complalnL agalnsL
successor counsel). 1he conLrlbuuon sLaLuLe
ls 740 llCS 100/2.
Conslder preparlng a le closlng leuer
explalnlng exacLly whaL Lasks Lhe lawyer wlll
compleLe and whaL Lasks Lhe cllenL musL
ConLacL lnformauon
Ld CllnLon, !r.
1he CllnLon Law llrm
111 WesL WashlngLon SLreeL, SulLe 1437
Chlcago, lL 60602
(312) 337-1313