Friday, January 30, 2009
A case decided today by the Nebraska Supreme Court analyzes the question of the extent to which an attorney can competently represent clients in an area of practice where the attorney has little or no prior experience. The attorney has practice for 40 years in Kearney, Nebraska. He was contacted by clients who wished to franchise their coffee shop business, which operated under the name Barrista's Daily Grind. The attorney had previously reviewed franchise agreements for purchasers but had never represented a seller and was generally unfamiliar with state and federal law in the area. He contacted a Washington, D.C. attorney who warned him that franchising agreements were a specialized field fraught with problems for the uninitiated lawyer. Nonetheless the lawyer proceeded with the representation.
As one might guess, this turned out badly for the clients. The completed franchise agreements (21 in all) were not compliant with legal requirements and led to significant adverse consequences. The problems surfaced when franchises were sold out of state.
The Nebraska court, although concluding that suspension was not required, took the opportunity to warn the bar against undertaking representations for which an attorney is not qualified by training and experience. (Mike Frisch)