Earlier, we discussed the elements of a Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claim as enunciated in Shan Yun Lin v Lau 2022 NY Slip Op 06279 Decided on November 9, 2022 Appellate Division, Second Department. Today, legal malpractice elements.
“The existence of an attorney-client relationship is an essential element of a cause of action to recover damages for legal malpractice (see Lindsay v Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano LLP, 129 AD3d 790, 792). “An attorney-client relationship may exist in the [*2]absence of a retainer or fee” (Willoughby Rehabilitation & Health Care Ctr., LLC v Webster, 190 AD3d 887, 889). “In determining the existence of an attorney-client relationship, a court must look to the actions of the parties to ascertain the existence of such a relationship” (Wei Cheng Chang v Pi, 288 AD2d 378, 380). “[A] party’s unilateral belief does not confer upon him or her the status of client. Rather, to establish an attorney-client relationship, there must be an explicit undertaking to perform a specific task” (Willoughby Rehabilitation & Health Care Ctr., LLC v Webster, 190 AD3d at 889; see Volpe v Canfield, 237 AD2d 282, 283).
Here, in affidavits properly submitted to amplify the allegations in the complaint (see Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d 83, 88), the plaintiffs averred that Lau met with them to form WRE I and orally informed them that he was representing them, instructed them to wire funds to his escrow account, committed to certain conditions of disbursement of those funds, and advised that he would continue to represent them on matters related to the property to be acquired by WRE I. Contrary to the Lau defendants’ contention, assuming these allegations to be true and affording the plaintiffs the benefit of every possible favorable inference (see J.P. Morgan Sec. Inc. v Vigilant Ins. Co., 21 NY3d 324, 334), they sufficiently alleged the existence of an attorney-client relationship (see Ripa v Petrosyants, 203 AD3d 770; Blank v Petrosyants, 203 AD3d 685; Mawere v Landau, 130 AD3d 986, 990).
Further, since legal malpractice actions are not subject to special pleading requirements, “a legal malpractice plaintiff need not, in order to assert a viable cause of action, specifically plead that the alleged malpractice fell within the agreed scope of the defendant’s representation” (Shaya B. Pac., LLC v Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, LLP, 38 AD3d 34, 39; see Fitzsimmons v Pryor Cashman LLP, 93 AD3d 497, 498). “Rather, a legal malpractice defendant seeking dismissal pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) must tender documentary evidence conclusively establishing that the scope of its representation did not include matters relating to the alleged malpractice” (Shaya B. Pac., LLC v Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, LLP, 38 AD3d at 39 [emphasis omitted]). Here, the Lau defendants failed to submit such documentary evidence.”