St. Mary's Journal on Legal Malpractice & Ethics

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St. Mary's University School of Law

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Lawyers are increasingly engaging in multi-jurisdictional practice—and their representation is increasingly giving rise to cross­-jurisdictional malpractice actions. Over the years, courts have issued divergent and contradictory opinions about whether out-of-state attorneys representing clients only on out-of-state matters can constitutionally be subject to personal jurisdiction in the client’s home state. The Supreme Court’s recent opinions in Daimler v. Bauman and Walden v. Fiore do little to settle this question and, in fact, may raise more questions than they answer. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court’s new personal jurisdiction jurisprudence offers an opportunity for courts to adopt a more cohesive analysis of personal jurisdiction in legal malpractice cases.

In particular, the Supreme Court has left room for courts to consider the state’s interest in regulating legal practice and protecting state citizens as part of their personal jurisdiction analysis. To ensure that such interests are not neglected, courts should focus on two aspects of the specific jurisdiction analysis. First, they should permit a broader view of “connectedness” in specific jurisdiction cases, upholding jurisdiction when the defendant’s forum conduct is similar to the conduct at issue in the suit—even if defendant’s in­-forum contacts did not directly cause the plaintiff’s harm. Second, courts should consider the foreseeable in-state effects of the attorney’s out-of-state conduct. If competent representation would give rise to foreseeable in-state issues and consequences, the attorney has engaged in purposeful availment of forum benefits by accepting the engagement. Both of these recommendations are consistent with existing Supreme Court precedent, and both would promote a more consistent approach to personal jurisdiction while protecting client interests.