• June 16, 2017

Photo by Jonathan Rotondo-McCord

There are very few lawyers in Minnesota that have developed substantial experience bringing legal malpractice cases because: (1) it is not very profitable; (2) there are not many cases (because, contrary to widespread opinion, most Minnesota lawyers are excellent and perfect); and (3) healthy people do not like to inflict pain on themselves.

(Lawyers suing lawyers seems a hair’s width from self-flagellation. That is, “There but for the grace of God go I….” or “People in glasshouses…” or “Takes one to know one….”  or “Pot calling the kettle black…” etc.). Really, this three-factor explanation is just a variation of what we have previously called “the three C’s” (cost, causation, and culture) that make successful legal malpractice cases rare and very difficult.

Exhibit 1: One of the most widely known plaintiff’s side legal malpractice lawyers in Minnesota, Paul Sortland, sued one of the other most well-known plaintiff’s side legal malpractice lawyers, Patrick O’Neill. O’Neill had missed a deadline in a malpractice case, which was dismissed due to his failure to meet the deadline. The case went all the way up to the Minnesota Supreme Court on mechanics’ lien issues relevant to the underlying alleged malpractice. The “second layer” legal malpractice case against O’Neill was sent back to Hennepin County District Court, went to trial, and resulted in a total defense win by jury verdict (with defendant represented by the formidable legal malpractice defense demi-god, Phil Cole).

Exhibit 2: And more recently, Mr. Sortland was unable to get Minnesota Supreme Court review of another legal malpractice case that he brought. This, again, highlights the challenges that these kinds of cases present.

The excruciating facts of Leach et al. v. Turman & Lang, Ltd. are that the plaintiffs, represented by Mr. Sortland, sued lawyers, Turman & Lang, for a supposed “scrivenor’s error” by a Turman & Lang lawyer in a purchase agreement. But then plaintiffs’ malpractice complaint against Turman & Lang, itself, included “obvious typographical errors” that seems to have rendered a key paragraph in their malpractice complaint incomprehensible. So the plaintiffs’ malpractice case was dismissed by the trial court and the dismissal affirmed by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.


A lawyer’s error in a lawsuit based on a lawyer’s error resulting in the dismissal of the lawsuit brought by a lawyer who unsuccessfully sued another malpractice lawyer for his error that resulted in the dismissal of his client’s case, alleged to have been caused by that client’s previous lawyers.

Turtles all the way down? Keystone Cops?

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