Thursday, April 7, 2011

U.S. District Court holds that fee dispute between law firm and former associate is not covered by malpractice insurance

Law firm Freedman, DeRosa & Rondeau (FDR) sued a former associate, Adam Clermont, for a portion of fees he collected from clients he continued to represent after leaving FDR. Clermont sought coverage from his legal malpractice insurer, Continental.

The policy covered claims "the Insured shall become legally obligated to pay as damages and claim expenses because of a claim . . . by reason of an act or omission in the performance of legal services by the insured."

"Claim" was defined in the policy as "a demand . . . arising out of: (1) an act or omission, . . . in the rendering or failure to render legal services."

"Legal services" was defined in the policy as "those services . . . performed by an Insured for others as a lawyer, arbitrator, mediator, as well as a notary public, or as a title agent."

"Damages" was defined in the policy as "judgments, awards and settlements." The definition excluded "legal fees, costs and expenses paid or incurred or charged by the Insured," and "injunctive or declaratory relief."

In Clermont v. Continental Cas. Co., 2011 WL 1235389 (D. Mass. 2011), the court held that a fee dispute did not come within the policy's definition of "legal services." It also held that the dispute fell within the exclusion to the definition of damages.

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