St. Mary's Law Journal


Alex B. Long


While few in the legal profession would refer to clients as “property”, it is difficult to think some lawyers do not believe they possess something similar to property rights in their retainer agreements with clients. Not surprisingly, a tortious interference claim is a viable option for an attorney who feels that another attorney has wrongfully “stolen” a client or otherwise interfered with the attorney’s “property.” Courts have traditionally been reluctant to hold attorneys liable for litigation conduct that results in harm to adversaries or their attorneys. Plaintiff-attorneys generally have a better chance of succeeding when they complain that another attorney—while engaging in the business of law—has interfered with an attorney-client relationship. Still, it remains difficult to predict in any case whether a defendant’s intentional interference will ultimately be determined to be improper or tortious. Tortious interference claims may undoubtedly serve a valid function in ensuring ethical representation and protecting the right of attorneys to collect under a fee agreement. But the considerable confusion surrounding the interference torts makes resolution of claims involving interference with the business of law particularly difficult. The nature of the torts presents unique problems when they are thrust into an arena with such specialized rules and concerns. The greatest risk, however, is that the torts may be used to protect a lawyer’s property interest in a client that the ethical rules governing lawyers at times goes to great lengths to emphasize a lawyer does not have. Given the importance of the goal of informed client choice and decision-making, courts and lawyers should be hesitant to impose liability for actions on the part of other attorneys that are consistent with these goals.


St. Mary's University School of Law