In House - The FindLaw Corporate Counsel Blog

Company's Loss Turns Into Lawyer's Nightmare

There is a sleepless night in every lawyer's career.

For Donald J. McNeil, that night has probably lasted a long time. McNeil and company took the brunt of a heavy-handed slap in federal court.

If the lawyers weren't awake during the trial and appeal, they should be now. The appeals court blamed them for a $340,000 loss and sanctioned their client with opposing counsel's fees, too.

Nightmare Case

The nightmare started almost ten years ago, when three workers sued Master Hand Contractors for unpaid wages. A trial judge entered judgment against the company in Jaworski v. Master Hand Contractors.

Master Hand appealed, but the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals handed the lawyers their hats. In a word, it was bad.

The appeals court blamed them for a fatally deficient appeal. The brief didn't include pleadings, orders and law required by federal court rules.

The judges were especially troubled that they claimed to have complied with the rules, when they had not. "Misrepresentations to this court are unacceptable, and this is particularly true here," the panel said.

Frivolous Fit

It got worse. The court said their brief "aptly" fit the definition of frivolous.

It did "not identify a single piece of evidence" to back up one argument, the judges said. "Such a porous argument is destined to lose right out of the gate," they said of another.

With a judicial execution like that, the company should be able to recoup its losses from the lawyers. But if McNeil were in-house counsel, it could have been a different kind of nightmare.

That's why more in-house lawyers are getting malpractice insurance. It's a good idea, especially when they get named in complaints.

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