Is it Legal Malpractice to Guarantee Results to a Client?
You hire a lawyer and he guarantees a result: be very cautious. Folks sometimes come to us after they get this guarantee from their former lawyer, and then, guess what, they did not get the expected result. Often, it’s the opposite result!
The Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct are there to help guide lawyers. They clearly state that lawyers must “promptly inform their client of any decision or circumstance with respect to which the client’s informed consent is required.” Counsel must “explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding representation.” Thus, when an attorney guarantees a result, he may not be giving the client sufficient information to make a determination? What about when an attorney assures that the opposing side’s claims are preposterous and overblown?
Well, in the case of Donarumo verses Attorneys Phililps and Treger in the Suffolk Superior Court, an April 2018 decision by Superior Court Trial Judge Robert B. Gordon is telling in this regard.
As in most legal malpractice cases, there was an underlying case in which the offending attorney represented the aggrieved client. In that underling case, the Donarumos were sued for breach of contract and violation of the Consumer Protection law, Chapter 93A. The Donarumos wanted to make a reasonable settlement offer to the plaintiffs, but their attorneys Philips and Treger told them that they had limited exposure and discouraged the Donarumos from making an offer. The attorneys encouraged the Donarumos to litigate, which cost them to pay a monthly bill for legal fees for years. Then, notwithstanding reasonable demands by the plaintiffs, the attorneys encouraged the Donarumos to go to trial and claimed that they “had nothing to worry about.” Despite all of the evidence against the Donarumos at trial, attorneys Philips and Treger claimed that “ultimate success was all but assured.”
Guess what? Donarumos lost at trial. Even worse, the Donarumos were hit with a violation of Chapter 93A, which triggers double or triple damages PLUS responsibility for the other party’s attorney fees. The Donarumos then hired new attorneys and settled the case for multiple times what they would have paid out if their first attorneys Philips and Treger had not recommended they go to trial.
Should You Beware of “Unreasonably Rosy Advice”?
Yes, because next, the Donarumos retained a Massachusetts legal malpractice attorney. They filed suit against their firmer attorneys, Philips and Terger, for:
- Overbilling (which they allege was extensive after many years of litigation); and
- Misrepresentations regarding the likelihood of success at trial.
When discussing the misrepresentation, the Court found that the first attorneys, Philips and Terger, lead the “Donarumos to believe that the lawsuit which had been brought against them was frivolous, and did not warrant more than a relatively modest amounts to settle.” The Court pointed out that the alleged negligence “is that they failed to settle,” recommend settlement, or at least lay out what a loss, after trial, would look like. The lawyers provided “unreasonably rosy advice regarding both the strength of their defense and their limited risks of loss.” Furthermore, the defendant lawyers “inaccurately defined . . . the worst-case outcome.”
Were You Guaranteed a Result by Your Lawyer?
If you were guaranteed a result by your Massachusetts lawyer and it turns out that this was a misrepresentation, you may have a claim for legal malpractice. Do you have emails, texts or letters regarding the advice? Do you have a witness? All of that may help prove your case.
Contact Burns & Jain for a free consultation. We have represented many folks who have been in your shoes and will help you through the process of making you whole again. Call 617-227-7423 for a free consultation.