Attorney fees are the driver of what could be a majority of legal malpractice cases. CLE lecturers consistently warn of the attorney fee-legal malpractice reflex arc, and with good reason. Glassman v Weinberg 2017 NY Slip Op 06885 Decided on October 3, 2017 Appellate Division, First Department is a prime example. Here the account stated claim fails and the breach of fiduciary duty claim withstands attack.
“Nevertheless, plaintiff’s motion for partial summary judgment on the account stated claim cannot be granted as to the other amounts billed, because plaintiff has not demonstrated entitlement to dismissal of defendant’s legal malpractice counterclaims, which are sufficiently intertwined with the account stated claim so as to provide a bona fide defense (see Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, LLP v Rose, 111 AD3d 453, 454 [1st Dept 2013], lv denied 23 NY3d 904 ). In support of his motion for summary judgment dismissing these counterclaims, plaintiff failed to make a prima facie showing that his representation of defendant met the applicable standard of professional care and/or did not proximately cause any damages (see Rojas v Paine, 125 AD3d 745, 746 [2d Dept 2015]). With respect to the services he provided in Weinberg v Sultan, plaintiff simply asserted that defendant and her daughter were unable to provide facts concerning the closing, but made no showing that his investigation of the case, preparation of the complaint, and conduct of the litigation met the standard of “ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a member of the legal profession” (Rudolf v Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker, & Sauer, 8 NY3d 438, 442  [internal quotation marks omitted]). Similarly, with respect to the other three legal malpractice counterclaims, plaintiff made conclusory assertions that he acted properly, without addressing defendant’s allegations or submitting any evidentiary support. Since plaintiff did not meet his initial burden, the burden did not shift to defendant to raise an issue of fact (see Alvarez v Prospect Hosp., 68 NY2d 320, 324 ).
The motion court correctly sustained the counterclaims alleging plaintiff’s breach of fiduciary duty. Plaintiff did not respond to the third counterclaim’s allegation that his efforts to delay turnover of the escrowed funds were contrary to his fiduciary duty as an escrow agent. Further, plaintiff did not dispute the fourth counterclaim’s allegation that he kept the escrowed funds in a noninterest bearing account, nor did he offer any legal support for his claim that this conduct did not breach a duty of care owed to defendant.