November 30, 2018 Feature

A Primer on Lawyer Liability for Aiding and Abetting Clients’ Misconduct

By Douglas R. Richmond

I. Introduction

While lawyers’ potential liability to clients for professional negligence—generally described as legal malpractice—and breach of fiduciary duty is well known, many severe claims against lawyers are prosecuted by third-parties who allege that they were harmed by the misconduct of the lawyer’s client, and that the lawyer aided and abetted the client’s misconduct. But for compliant lawyers, plaintiffs in these cases claim, the principal wrongdoers’ alleged misconduct—typically some form of fraud or breach of fiduciary duty—could never have been accomplished or would not have persisted long enough to cause material harm. Aiding and abetting liability is well-settled; indeed, secondary liability arising from concerted action traces back for centuries.1 Although recent Supreme Court decisions have effectively eliminated aiding and abetting liability under federal securities laws insofar as private plaintiffs are concerned,2 many states recognize aiding and abetting liability in some form.

Premium Content For:
  • The Center for Professional Responsibility
Join - Now