NJ Underlying Divorce Action
Facts: A father guaranteed in writing his daughter’s fees for her divorce attorney. He was not a party to the agreement between his daughter and the attorney. When the legal fees exceeded more than double the expected amount, and his daughter defaulted on the fees, the father sued the attorney and his firm for legal malpractice. The daughter did not join as a plaintiff, and the court noted that there was no evidence of her dissatisfaction with the attorney’s services.
Issue: Does an attorney have any duty towards a guarantor of his client’s legal fees?
1) There is generally no attorney-client relationship between an attorney and a guarantor of legal fees, and thus, there can be no claim of legal malpractice.
2) However, an attorney may owe a duty to a non-client when the attorney knows, or should know, that a non-client will rely on the attorney’s representations, and the connection between the attorney and the non-client is not too remote.
Here, the father did not rely on any communication of the attorney, and thus he had no claim of legal malpractice.
Lesson: An attorney generally has no duty to non-clients, including guarantors of legal fees. However, a duty may arise when an attorney knows, or should know, that a third party is relying on a representation of the attorney.