The Importance of a Nonengagement Letter

Use Email to Confirm Delivery and Receipt

The Louisiana Court of Appeal for the Second Circuit recently affirmed the dismissal of legal malpractice claims against Bossier City lawyer W. Jarred Franklin because he sent a timely disengagement letter terminating his representation. See Watson v. Franklin, No. 50,730-CA (La. Ct. App. 2d Cir. Jun. 22, 2016).

The plaintiff, Lillian Watson, fell down a flight of stairs while visiting a friend in New Orleans. She engaged Franklin to represent her. After he investigated the accident, he decided to terminate his representation, and informed her of his decision by letter. Franklin never filed a petition for damages on her behalf. Subsequently, Ms. Watson sued him for malpractice.

Franklin filed an exception of no right of action. At the hearing on that exception, Franklin testified that he mailed the disengagement letter to Watson, and it was never returned. Watson did not testify at the hearing, but only submitted an affidavit stating that she did not receive the letter.

The Second Circuit affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the malpractice suit:

We find the trial court’s factual determination that Franklin terminated his representation of Watson by letter reasonable, and thus, not manifestly erroneous. An attorney-client relationship between Franklin and Watson did not exist at the time Watson’s claim prescribed. Thus, Watson did not have a right of action against Franklin for legal malpractice, and the trial court did not err in dismissing Watson’s claim.

See id. at p. 5.

This case demonstrates the importance of sending a nonengagement or disengagement letter when declining or terminating the representation of a client. Franklin was lucky that the trial and appellate courts found no triable issue as to whether his disengagement letter was actually sent and received. To avoid that potential problem, any lawyer declining or terminating a lawyer-client relationship should notify the prospective client or former client either by email or certified mail to have better evidence of delivery and receipt.

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