What Duty Does the Lawyer Owe to Incidental Beneficiaries of Legal Services?
AS A GENERAL RULE, ATTORNEYS HAVE NO DUTY TO INCIDENTAL BENEFICIARIES
“Incidental beneficiaries” are people (or entities, like corporations or limited liability companies) who are not the attorney’s clients but may still benefit (or fail to benefit) from the attorney’s services.
Even if a lawyer knows that non-clients will benefit from his or her representation of a client, the lawyer does not generally owe any duty of care to non-client incidental beneficiaries. This is true regardless of how great a benefit the incidental beneficiary may receive from the outcome of the client’s case.
Incidental beneficiaries are different from intended beneficiaries–including, but not always limited to, the client(s).
Since lawyers do not owe a duty to non-clients, as a rule non-clients cannot sue the lawyer for malpractice. Exceptions exist, but generally speaking a person must be either a client or an intended beneficiary of an attorney’s services in order to claim that the attorney owed them a duty of care. Since the existence of this duty is a required element of malpractice claims, without a duty, there can be no finding of malpractice against the attorney.
DO ATTORNEYS EVER OWE A DUTY TO NON-CLIENTS?
In some situations, lawyers do owe a duty of care to non-clients, whether or not those persons are also incidental beneficiaries of the attorney’s representation of a client.
If a person (or entity) is closely enough related to a client to have a legal interest in the outcome of the client’s lawsuit, or has a dependent, related legal claim, the attorney should inform that person (or entity) that the lawsuit (or claim) exists. However, the attorney does not necessarily have to accept representation of the third-party. In fact, in some cases, conflict of interest rules may prevent co-representation or joinder of the outside party.
Generally, lawyers may owe a duty (and thus, acquire liability) to non-clients if the policy considerations behind limiting the lawyer’s duty are outweighed by the potential harm to the non-client.
This sort of situation is uncommon, but can arise in a variety of ways. However, the lawyer’s duty to non-clients (or lack thereof) is generally evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and is heavily fact-dependent in many cases.
If you think an attorney may have violated a duty owed to you, consult a malpractice lawyer immediately, because delay may damage your legal rights. Do not attempt to evaluate your legal rights without qualified counsel; malpractice and negligence law are complex areas, and you should have your situation evaluated by an attorney.
Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE. Your rights and experiences may vary. Never use an article like this one to evaluate your legal claims. Speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Legal claims against lawyers are a complicated topic. If you believe you have a claim against an attorney who failed to provide you with competent representation, consult an experienced malpractice lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your possible rights and claims.