A Los Angeles jury awarded $34.5 million dollars to a group of investors who had brought a legal malpractice action against the law firm Holland & Knight last week. The verdict against Holland & Knight followed a seven week trial and six days of deliberation. The verdict on legal malpractice, fraud and breach of fiduciary duty claims came despite the law firm’s denial that it had ever represented the plaintiffs. After the $34.5 million dollar verdict, the jury retired to consider additional punitive damages, before a deal was worked out to avoid punitive damages.
Plaintiffs in the action were investors in real estate. Plaintiffs alleged developer, Shi Shailendra, their former partner had defrauded them, and Holland & Knight had protected Shailendra’s interests.
This case graphically illustrates the necessity of making sure attorneys identify not only who they represent, but who believes they are represented by the attorney. Making the scope and nature of your representation (or non-representation) abundantly clear is a good way to avoid professional liability claims.