In a legal malpractice action, the client must show that his or her attorney breached a duty that was owed to the client. In determining whether an attorney breached a duty, the client must show that the attorney failed to exercise the ordinary care, skill, expertise, and diligence which is commonly possessed and exercised by attorneys practicing in the same “jurisdiction” in representing the client in his or her case. Except for common sense mistakes, expert testimony is required to establish the standard of care and whether the attorney breached it.
Until 2006, Tennessee law was not uniform regarding whether the standard of care was a local or statewide standard. In the case, of Chapman v. Bearfield, 207 S.W.3d 736 (Tenn. 2006), the Tennessee Supreme Court examined the various Tennessee opinions on the matter, as well as the standards used in other states, and held that the standard of care for a legal malpractice action in Tennessee was a single, statewide standard. As such, the client must show through expert testimony that the attorney failed to exercise the ordinary care, skill, expertise, and diligence commonly exercised and possessed by attorneys throughout the state.
The Tennessee Supreme Court reasoned that all attorneys in Tennessee are admitted to the Tennessee bar and may practice anywhere within the state. The Supreme Court considered three factors which further supported a statewide standard:
(1) a local standard of care could prevent clients from proving the standard of care because they might not be able to find a local attorney who would be willing to testify that a colleague breached the standard of care;
(2) a local standard of care would necessarily have variations across localities in Tennessee, resulting in inequitable and inefficient results as it could increase the likelihood that some attorneys would be faced with a malpractice claim in a locality with higher standards while reducing the likelihood for other attorneys to be subject to a malpractice action in a locality with lower standards; and
(3) the prevalence of legal research via the internet undercuts previous arguments for a local standard of care as it equalizes the availability of information to all attorneys statewide.
The statewide standard of care is beneficial to all clients bringing a legal malpractice claim, particularly for someone located in a rural community. The client is a small town can now find an expert to testify that is outside of the realm of influence of the attorney and his or her friends and colleagues.
In summary, the statewide standard if fair to both clients and their former attorneys. For clients, they have greater access to the court with an increased pool of experts available to testify, and for attorneys, a single, statewide standard provides a consistent, uniform standard from which to measure their performance.
The attorneys at Bailey & Greer can help you evaluate your legal malpractice lawsuit. Call us today for a free case consultation.
Since graduating magna cum laude in 2005 from the University of Memphis School of Law, Thomas has helped make a difference in the lives of victims of serious personal injury, wrongful death, and professional negligence. Thomas has extensive trial experience in both state and federal court. Among other victories in the courtroom, Thomas obtained several impressive jury verdicts and settlements
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