Every licensed attorney must comply with a code of ethics. When an attorney fails to do so and the client is injured as a result, that client may be able to sue the attorney for legal malpractice. In most cases, legal malpractice claims are brought by clients. In New Jersey, however, non-clients can also bring legal malpractice claims.
In 2014, a New Jersey court held that non-clients can recover for damages caused by an attorney's negligence. In that case, Innes v. Marzano-Lesnevich, a man succeeded on his claim of legal malpractice against his ex-wife's attorneys. The attorneys gave the ex-wife his daughter's passport. Upon receiving the passport, the ex-wife took the daughter out of the country without permission
The court held that the attorneys' actions were negligent. While the attorneys did not specifically owe a duty of care to the man since he was not their client, the court held that the man relied on the attorneys' representations and was thus entitled to legal protection. In a nutshell, the court said that attorneys owe a fiduciary duty to non-clients who rely on the attorneys in some professional capacity.
The attorneys appealed that court decision, and the issue is now in the hands of the New Jersey Supreme Court. Although the New Jersey Supreme Court has not yet ruled on the issue, as it currently stands, non-clients can bring claims for legal malpractice.
As the Innes case demonstrated, opposing parties may be able to sue for legal malpractice on the idea that they relied to their detriment on something the other party's attorney said. Other examples of non-clients that may be able to succeed on legal malpractice claims include shareholders of a corporation that is represented by the attorney and beneficiaries of an estate that is represented by an attorney.
Regardless of whether the plaintiff in a legal malpractice claim is a client or not, he or she must still meet the same elements of legal malpractice. There are two essential elements: (1) that the attorney was negligent in some way; and (2) that the negligence caused the plaintiff some sort of injury.
Proving the elements of legal malpractice is a high burden. To get help with your legal malpractice claim, you should seek the advice of an experienced legal malpractice attorney.