I previously wrote about this case from the perspective of how conflicts of interests can kill you as an estate planner if (a) you’re not aware of the issues and (b) you fail to take appropriate precautions [click here]. As a follow up to that post, it seems that the estate planner at the center of this particular drama dodged the bullet (for now). Here’s an excerpt from Jury rejects $17M legal malpractice claim against Orrick, written by National Law Journal staff reporter Pamela A. MacLean.
San Francisco jury rejected a $17 million legal malpractice claim against Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe in an eight-year-old dispute claiming breach of fiduciary duty by retired trusts and estates partner William Hoisington.
"It is not often that a law firm takes a malpractice claim to trial," said Wendy Thurm, one of the Keker & Van Nest attorneys representing Orrick. "Orrick’s case was strong, and we’re happy Bill Hoisington’s character and reputation have been preserved."
The verdict on Tuesday came following a six-week trial and two days of deliberation in Benesch v. Tandler, No. 317187 (San Francisco Co., Calif., Super. Ct.). Hoisington spent more than 30 years as a trusts and estates attorney in the San Francisco office of Orrick prior to his retirement.
An 86-year-old multimillionaire businesswoman, Fritzi Benesch, filed the suit in 2000, claiming she had been misled into relinquishing control of her clothing company, Fritzi California, to her daughter and son-in-law, Valli and Robert Tandler. Both Tandlers are lawyers and worked in the family business.
Valli worked for the former Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison firm for two years before joining the family clothing and real estate businesses. Robert worked as general counsel for Fritzi California.
In 2002, the trial court dismissed the parties from the suit on summary judgment, but the case was reinstated on appeal in 2005. The Tandlers mediated a settlement with Benesch, but Benesch abruptly backed out of the deal and the Tandlers have an appeal pending to enforce the agreement, according to Thurm.
When you read the excerpt, note that even though the Orrick lawyer "won" this trial, the stress and financial drain of this litigation has been going on for years (and it’s not over yet). The next time you consider whether or not to take on an estate-planning matter that may involve a tricky conflicts issue ask yourself "is it really worth it?"