United States: Recent Second Circuit Decision Demonstrates Importance Of Carefully Written Engagement Letters
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A recent decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit demonstrates the importance of having carefully crafted client engagement letters that clearly define the scope of legal representation. In Allegrino v. Moscow, 2021 US App. LEXIS 34936 (2d. Cir. Nov. 24, 2021), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the US District Court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s malpractice claims against his former lawyer. In Allegrino, the plaintiff alleged that he suffered $ 40 million in damages due to the undisputed failure of the defendant’s lawyer to appear and represent him in certain probate proceedings. The plaintiff alleged that he was the beneficiary of a large estate that was in the Richmond County, New York, Estates Court to determine the beneficiaries of the estate.
The plaintiff further asserted that under an alleged will designating him purportedly as the sole beneficiary of the estate, it would have been “smooth” for him to have received all of the proceeds of the estate if the lawyer of the defendant had appeared and represented him in the homologation proceedings. Legal procedures. In the malpractice trial that followed the probate proceedings, the district court dismissed the plaintiff’s claims and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the plaintiff’s favorable standard of review generally applicable to dismissal motions notwithstanding. .
Allegrino court considered the language of lawyer’s letters of engagement with the plaintiff, the first of which expressly stated that the lawyer’s engagement was “for the limited purpose” of reviewing certain documents. , conduct legal research and determine whether to appeal a previous order that had been made in the course of the probate process. The lawyer’s second engagement letter with the claimant expressly stated that the scope of the engagement was “strictly limited … to … [pursuing that] appeal “and specifically stated that the representation did not include the representation of the claimant in the underlying probate proceeding, whether in remand or otherwise. The claimant alleged, however, that after the parties had executed the second engagement letter, they had telephone conversations in which the lawyer agreed to represent him in the post-appeal transfer proceedings before the Probate Court. The plaintiff alleged that in addition to the payment for the representation in the appeal proceedings, he had also transferred funds to the lawyer for representation in the probate proceedings.
In addition, in opposing the motion to dismiss, the Applicant presented a copy of the second engagement letter with a handwritten annotation purporting to broaden the scope of the representation âin accordance with [the parties’ alleged] telephone conversation. “The lawyer ‘s second engagement letter with the claimant, however, stated that” any … additional representations should be the subject of an additional and separate service contract “, which neither party was required to accept, and that no modification or waiver of any provision of the second engagement letter would be effective unless it is in writing and signed by both parties. clear and unambiguous from the attorney’s engagement letters, the district court and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals both ruled that the attorney had the right to dismiss the plaintiff’s malpractice claims.
This case reminds practitioners in jurisdictions across the country of the vital importance of having signed written engagement letters clearly defining the scope of representation and specifying how the scope of representation can be broadened.
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