Usually attorneys know their clients and their clients know their attorneys. But not always.
In a recent New Jersey appellate court decision (Greening v. Levine), the appellate court grappled with the issue of whether a lawyer who represented a condominium association in claims made by a construction company also represented the individual unit owners. One unit owner claims the lawyer provided her with legal advice on a number of issues regarding her obligations to the construction company, and that the lawyer gave some bad advice that caused her damage. The unit owner sued the lawyer for legal malpractice.
The trial court dismissed the lawsuit, finding that the lawyer only represented the condominium association and not the individual unit owner. However, the appellate court reversed that decision finding that there were facts in dispute regarding who the lawyer represented. The appellate court sent the case back to the trial court so a jury could decide whether the lawyer represented the unit owner and whether the lawyer committed malpractice.
The lesson to be learned here is that if you are a client or think you are a client, make it clear and in writing. Send the lawyer an email or write a letter and state that you are proceeding on the basis that the lawyer is providing you with legal representation. If you are a lawyer and believe that a non-client may have the notion that you represent that person, send an email or letter that clearly states that you are not that person’s lawyer and that the person should seek advice from a different lawyer of his or her own choosing.