Legal malpractice and CPLR 3211(a)(7) motions are an institutional problem. In our view, (as in the dissent’s view here) judges give unwarranted extra scrutiny to legal malpractice complaints, and grant 3211(a)(7) motions statistically in greater volume then they do to other types of cases. Our view is that it is an institutional problem because of the human nature of lawyers judging lawyers. There is interesting support for this proposition in both the Law Review literature as well as in Psychology experimental studies.
Here is the debate, as set forth in MidH-Hudson Val. Fed. Credit Union v Quartararo & Lois, LLC 2017 NY Slip Op 07916 Decided on November 9, 2017 Appellate Division, Third Department.
For the majority: “A legal malpractice claim requires that the plaintiff show that “the defendant attorney failed to exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a member of the legal profession which results in actual damages to a plaintiff, and that the plaintiff would have succeeded on the merits of the underlying action ‘but for’ the attorney’s negligence” (AmBase Corp. v Davis Polk & Wardwell, 8 NY3d 428, 434  [citations omitted]; see Hinsdale v Weiermiller, 126 AD3d 1103, 1104 ). The amended complaint alleged that, but for defendants’ failure to provide timely and competent legal services, plaintiff would have succeeded in the underlying debt collection and mortgage foreclosure actions. The amended complaint further alleged that “had [defendants] not failed to advise the cases in a timely and competent manner . . ., [plaintiff] would not have incurred a loss in time and value in the debt on the collection and foreclosure cases assigned to defendant[s].” Other than these vague and conclusory allegations, however, plaintiff failed to plead any specific facts, which, if accepted as true, would establish a legal malpractice claim. Absent from the amended complaint is any mention of an instance of deficient representation or any example of erroneous advice by defendants. Merely alleging the elements of a legal malpractice claim in a general fashion, without more, does not satisfy the liberal pleading standard of CPLR 3211. Furthermore, while a recitation of the elements of a cause of action may meet that component of CPLR 3013 requiring that the statements in a pleading provide notice of “the material elements of a cause of action,” the statute also requires that the pleading’s statements be “sufficiently particular to give the court and parties notice of the transactions, occurrences or series of transactions or occurrences, intended to be proved” (CPLR 3013 [emphasis added]; cf. Matter of Garraway v Fischer, 106 AD3d 1301, 1301 , lv denied 21 NY3d 864 ; Eklund v Pinkey, 27 AD3d 878, 879 ).
The statements in the amended complaint fail in this regard in that they do not allege a single transaction where defendants were retained to provide legal services or a single occurrence of negligent legal representation forming the basis of the legal malpractice claim, let alone the specific underlying foreclosure action or actions in which defendants allegedly committed legal malpractice. Other than stating that defendants represented plaintiff in foreclosure actions, the amended complaint does not allege, and, more critically, it cannot reasonably be inferred from such pleading, what defendants allegedly did or did not do in a negligent fashion. The amended complaint is not just sparse on factual details — rather, it is wholly devoid of them [FN2]. Given the [*2]absence of detailed facts, the legal malpractice cause of action should have been dismissed (see Janker v Silver, Forrester & Lesser, P.C., 135 AD3d 908, 910 ; Rodriguez v Jacoby & Meyers, LLP, 126 AD3d at 1185-1186; Kreamer v Town of Oxford, 96 AD3d 1128, 1128 ; compare Soule v Lozada, 232 AD2d 825, 825 ).”
For the minority: “We concur with the majority that plaintiff’s cause of action for fraud must be dismissed, as it was not pleaded with the high level of specificity and detail required by CPLR 3016 (b). However, fraud is one of just a few causes of action singled out in the CPLR for such heightened standards of particularity in pleading (see CPLR 3016). In contrast, the standards of specificity for legal malpractice, like most other causes of action, are governed by principles of notice pleading, which “are designed to focus attention on whether the pleader has a cause of action rather than on whether he [or she] has properly stated one” (Rovello v Orofino Realty Co., 40 NY2d 633, 636  [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]; accord Gagnon v City of Saratoga Springs, 14 AD3d 845, 846 ). The allegations of a complaint generally need not be set forth in detail; it is sufficient if the parties are put on notice of the underlying transactions or occurrences, and the material elements of the cause of action are stated (see CPLR 3013). Here, the allegations of legal malpractice in plaintiff’s complaint — although lacking detail — state factual allegations that provide the degree of notice necessary to satisfy this generous standard. We therefore respectfully dissent from the majority as to that cause of action.
The standard to be applied upon a motion to dismiss a pleading for failure to state a cause of action is well established, and was both properly described and applied by Supreme Court. A court considering such a motion must construe the pleading liberally, “accept the facts as alleged in the [pleading] as true, accord [the] plaintiff the benefit of every possible favorable inference, and determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory” (Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d 83, 87-88 ; accord Connaughton v Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., 29 NY3d 137, 141 ; Rushaid v Pictet & Cie, 28 NY3d 316, 327 ). The complaint “is deemed to allege whatever can be implied from its statements by fair and reasonable intendment” (Foley v D’Agostino, 21 AD2d 60, 65  [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]). A complaint should not be dismissed solely because it is poorly or inartfully pleaded; rather, “in order to succeed on the motion, the defendant must convince the court that nothing the plaintiff can reasonably be expected to prove would help; that the plaintiff just doesn’t have a claim” (Siegel, NY Prac § 265 [5th ed 2017]).
These principles apply to allegations of legal malpractice (see Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d at 87-88; New York State Workers’ Compensation Bd. v Program Risk Mgt., Inc., 150 AD3d 1589, 1594 ; Rodriguez v Jacoby & Meyers, LLP, 126 AD3d 1183, 1185 , lv denied 25 NY3d 912 ; Snyder v Brown Chiari, LLP, 116 AD3d 1116, 1117 ; Alaimo v McGeorge, 69 AD3d 1032, 1034 ). The cases relied upon by the majority should not be misunderstood to require a higher standard of detail and specificity for legal malpractice claims than those imposed upon other causes of action by the familiar and fundamental standards of notice pleading (see e.g. 12 Baker Hill Rd., Inc. v Miranti, 130 AD3d 1425, 1426  [a complaint alleging breach of contract need not plead the contract’s terms verbatim nor specify which provision of the contract was breached]). No such distinction exists, nor should it.”