Legal Malpractice

CA Legal Malpractice Window Narrows


California law firms got some help from the state supreme court yesterday in a ruling that narrows the window for filing suits for legal malpractice.

The court ruled that the statute of limitations begins to run when a client leaves a law firm, even if the client is represented by an ex-firm lawyer, the Recorder reports. Nine law firms and two bar associations had filed amicus briefs urging that result.

“When a lawyer leaves a firm and takes a client with him, the firm’s representation of the client ceases,” the court said in its opinion (PDF). “There is no risk the firm will attempt to run out the clock on the statute of limitations by offering reassurances and blandishments about the state of the case. Conversely, the firm loses all ability to mitigate any damage to the client.”

The plaintiff in the suit, Beal Bank, had sued now-defunct Arter & Hadden for negligence in a case involving collection of unpaid loans, ABAJournal.com noted in an earlier post. Beal Bank dropped Arter in 1998, taking its business to an Arter associate who left to open his own firm.

The bank argued the statute of limitations should be tolled during the time the ex-Arter associate continued to represent the bank. It cited the rule that says the period does not begin to run during the time a malpractice defendant continues to represent the client on the matter at issue.

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