Neglecting clients is a bad thing to do. Let’s learn the lesson at someone else’s experience, and not do it ourselves:
In 1997 Biomet, Inc. a worldwide ortho manufacturer from Warsaw IN hired Kent Frandsen, of Parr Richey law firm, to file a legal malpractice claim against Barnes & Thornburg for the way it handled a patent infringement case. The firm filed the suit followed by, as you can imagine, lots of intrigue, including an interlocutory appeal decided in 2003. After the Court of Appeals opinion approved the case moving forward, nothing happened on the case.
In 2006 B&T sought a Rule 41(E) dismissal that was heard, with an honest discussion of the delay at the hearing:
THE COURT: What has happened ? Why has nothing
happened since transfer wasn’t granted, sir?
COUNSEL: That’s a fair question, Your Honor. First of
all, I was stunned personally when the Court of Appeals
issued the decision it made. I was extremely busy in my
practice. This case takes a lot of time to put together. It has been one (1) of those cases where I couldn’t bring myself to dig into it enough to be ready to do what needs to be done. This is not an automobile accident case, Your Honor.This involves difficult issues that were involving patent litigation that frankly has been very uncomfortable for me and I don’t know that I’ve ever felt competent to deal with the underlying merits of the judgment that is at issue in this case. *** When that did not come, … I simply could not get to where I could take or have anyone else take the time to get into the merits of the case. I take full responsibility for it and we were in communication with Biomet. We indicated to our client that we would do things but we simply didn’t do them. We would get going on the case. Biomet seriously wants this case pursued and resolved on its merits. We’ve not been able to get that done. ***
THE COURT: … The question is if we talk about the
judicial system, why should I penalize this Defendant ?
Why should I penalize this Defendant because of what you have described as your inaction, sir ? I guess I want to try to understand that.
The court did not understand that, and the client did not either, later filing a malpractice case after the case vs. B&T was dismissed. Biomet got a partial summary judgment v. the law firm and lawyer, and then Parr Richey appealed. The question was whether there was a duty and a breach, and it was decided (in a NFP opinion*) there was. Other issues remained for trial.
*While NFP opinions have no precedential value in a court of law, they are great teaching tools in the hands of a blogger!
Be careful taking on more than you and your firm are capable of handling. Stay on the case even when things get busy or you get distracted. The client is still counting on you.
“They are pestering me!” “Their calls got nastier and nastier, and quite frankly I did not need that.” “I fired them [the client], told them to get a new lawyer!” NJ’s Disciplinary Review Board did not take kindly to Victor Azar’s attitude about people who had hired him, paid him money and then got neglected. The board objected to his defensive responses to the clients’ seemingly legitimate complaints. He also withheld their files.
The report was complimentary about his skills in getting clients and their retainers, but suggested that the follow through lacked a lawyerly precision, and he “neglected, if not grossly neglected” the client’s interest and “engaged in a pattern of failing to communicate” with his clients.
Azar is facing a reprimand at DRC’s recommendation.
h/t Vic Indiano