Law Practice

Fee Arb Bars Legal Malpractice Suit


A divorce client who unsuccessfully contests her matrimonial counsel’s bill in arbitration can’t then turn around and sue for malpractice over the legal fees the law firm charged her, a New York appeals court has ruled.

The arbitration was over a claim filed by Laurie Wallenstein with a grievance committee, contending that her former counsel overcharged her and “never handled the case properly,” reports New York Lawyer (reg. req.), in a reprint of a New York Law Journal article.

The arbitration was decided in favor of Robert Cohen of Tabat Cohen & Blum, which received a substantial award of fees. So this adjudication in arbitration precluded an attempt by Wallenstein to take a second bite of the apple and sue her former Long Island counsel for malpractice and a return of allegedly excessive fees, a unanimous appellate panel said.

“We agree with the defendants that all of the allegations in the complaint were ‘reasonably and plainly comprehended to be within the scope of the dispute submitted to arbitration,’” it wrote. “The determination fixing the value of the defendants’ services necessarily determined that there was no malpractice.”

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