Almost uniformly claims of overbilling or unnecessary legal work and fees are dismissed as “duplicitive” of a legal malpractice claim.  Dubon v Drexel  2021 NY Slip Op 04119 Decided on June 30, 2021 Appellate Division, Second Department is a rare example where the Court distinguishes between a real contract claim and one which is based on the lack of quality of legal work.

“The plaintiff hired the defendants, Allen Drexel and Drexel, LLC (hereinafter together Drexel), to represent him in a divorce action. The plaintiff and Drexel entered into a retainer agreement (hereinafter the retainer), which set forth the terms of Drexel’s representation of the plaintiff. Pursuant to the retainer, Drexel, among other things, would provide the plaintiff with itemized billing statements at least every 60 days. The retainer further provided that any modifications to the agreement, fee estimates, budgets for work to be done for the plaintiff, or adjustments to Drexel’s bills “will be valid only if in writing and signed by [both parties]” (emphasis in original).

In November 2016, the plaintiff commenced the instant action against Drexel, in which he asserted two causes of action alleging breach of contract and one cause of action alleging fraudulent inducement. The first breach of contract cause of action alleged, among other things, that Drexel breached a provision of the retainer pursuant to which Drexel agreed to defend the plaintiff in his divorce action and “to provide all necessary legal services for an estimated cost of ‘no more than $100,000.'” The second breach of contract cause of action alleged that Drexel failed to provide invoices to the plaintiff as required by the retainer. The fraudulent inducement cause of action alleged that the plaintiff was fraudulently induced into entering into the retainer by relying on Drexel’s representations as to the cost of its legal services.”

“However, the Supreme Court should have denied that branch of Drexel’s motion which was to dismiss so much of the first breach of contract cause of action as alleged that Drexel overbilled and charged the plaintiff for unnecessary legal services (see Ullmann-Schneider v Lacher & Lovell-Taylor, P.C., 121 AD3d 415, 416; O’Connor v Blodnick, Abramowitz and Blodnick, 295 AD2d 586, 587). In opposition to that branch of Drexel’s motion which was to dismiss the first breach of contract cause of action, the plaintiff submitted an affidavit in which he averred that Drexel double-billed him for legal services in the sum of $291,000 and charged him at least $70,000 for unnecessary legal services. Contrary to Drexel’s contention, the plaintiff’s claim that Drexel overbilled and charged him for unnecessary legal services is distinct from a legal malpractice cause of action, as the plaintiff’s claim does not challenge the quality of Drexel’s work (see Ullmann-Schneider v Lacher & Lovell-Taylor, P.C., 121 AD3d at 416; Tanenbaum v Molinoff, 118 AD3d 774, 775-776).”

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Andrew Lavoott Bluestone

Andrew Lavoott Bluestone has been an attorney for 40 years, with a career that spans criminal prosecution, civil litigation and appellate litigation. Mr. Bluestone became an Assistant District Attorney in Kings County in 1978, entered private practice in 1984 and in 1989 opened…

Andrew Lavoott Bluestone has been an attorney for 40 years, with a career that spans criminal prosecution, civil litigation and appellate litigation. Mr. Bluestone became an Assistant District Attorney in Kings County in 1978, entered private practice in 1984 and in 1989 opened his private law office and took his first legal malpractice case.

Since 1989, Bluestone has become a leader in the New York Plaintiff’s Legal Malpractice bar, handling a wide array of plaintiff’s legal malpractice cases arising from catastrophic personal injury, contracts, patents, commercial litigation, securities, matrimonial and custody issues, medical malpractice, insurance, product liability, real estate, landlord-tenant, foreclosures and has defended attorneys in a limited number of legal malpractice cases.

Bluestone also took an academic role in field, publishing the New York Attorney Malpractice Report from 2002-2004.  He started the “New York Attorney Malpractice Blog” in 2004, where he has published more than 4500 entries.

Mr. Bluestone has written 38 scholarly peer-reviewed articles concerning legal malpractice, many in the Outside Counsel column of the New York Law Journal. He has appeared as an Expert witness in multiple legal malpractice litigations.

Mr. Bluestone is an adjunct professor of law at St. John’s University College of Law, teaching Legal Malpractice.  Mr. Bluestone has argued legal malpractice cases in the Second Circuit, in the New York State Court of Appeals, each of the four New York Appellate Divisions, in all four of  the U.S. District Courts of New York and in Supreme Courts all over the state.  He has also been admitted pro haec vice in the states of Connecticut, New Jersey and Florida and was formally admitted to the US District Court of Connecticut and to its Bankruptcy Court all for legal malpractice matters. He has been retained by U.S. Trustees in legal malpractice cases from Bankruptcy Courts, and has represented municipalities, insurance companies, hedge funds, communications companies and international manufacturing firms. Mr. Bluestone regularly lectures in CLEs on legal malpractice.

Based upon his professional experience Bluestone was named a Diplomate and was Board Certified by the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys in 2008 in Legal Malpractice. He remains Board Certified.  He was admitted to The Best Lawyers in America from 2012-2019.  He has been featured in Who’s Who in Law since 1993.

In the last years, Mr. Bluestone has been featured for two particularly noteworthy legal malpractice cases.  The first was a settlement of an $11.9 million dollar default legal malpractice case of Yeo v. Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman which was reported in the NYLJ on August 15, 2016. Most recently, Mr. Bluestone obtained a rare plaintiff’s verdict in a legal malpractice case on behalf of the City of White Plains v. Joseph Maria, reported in the NYLJ on February 14, 2017. It was the sole legal malpractice jury verdict in the State of New York for 2017.

Bluestone has been at the forefront of the development of legal malpractice principles and has contributed case law decisions, writing and lecturing which have been recognized by his peers.  He is regularly mentioned in academic writing, and his past cases are often cited in current legal malpractice decisions. He is recognized for his ample writings on Judiciary Law § 487, a 850 year old statute deriving from England which relates to attorney deceit.