Lawyer Liability

For three decades, Williams & Connolly LLP has devoted a substantial portion of its practice to the defense of major law firms against virtually every type of claim including for alleged legal and audit malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, violation of federal and state securities laws, violation of banking laws, fraud and related claims.  These matters have included federal and state court trials, appeals, arbitrations, disciplinary proceedings and in Congressional hearings.  The firm has also defended professionals and professional firms in criminal investigations and charges, SEC investigations and charges, and in a number of matters brought by the FDIC or the banking agencies arising out of failed banks and savings and loans.  Other representations of professional firms have been in intra-firm disputes such as with individual partners regarding such matters as age discrimination and compensation.

A number of Williams & Connolly lawyers have both an active intellectual property practice and defend legal malpractice claims, giving them a unique ability to defend legal malpractice suits arising in intellectual property matters. In addition, the firm often combines legal malpractice defense lawyers with intellectual property lawyers to provide an effective defense to these claims.

Since 2001, Williams & Connolly has represented more than 40 of the AmLaw 100 law firms in major litigation matters throughout the United States.  In addition to the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia, the firm has served as lead counsel in cases in Alabama, Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, South Carolina, Texas and West Virginia.

More than thirty-five Williams & Connolly partners have spent substantial portions of their careers litigating professional liability cases.  Senior partner John Villa has garnered accolades from publications in the United States and abroad.  “John Villa, of Williams & Connolly in Washington, has a reputation for being the lawyer that law firms turn to when in a spot of bother,” wrote the Financial Times.  Noted The Washington Post: “John Villa of . . . Williams & Connolly [is] the lawyer and firm that lawyers and law firms turn to when they’re in trouble.” Law360 has placed Williams & Connolly at the top of the list of six firms featured in the article “6 Firms To Have On Speed Dial If Malpractice Trouble Hits,” and identified partner John Villa for his handling of major cases. Senior partner Michael Sundermeyer has been named in the Best Lawyers 2015 listing for Washington, D.C., “Lawyer of the Year in Ethics and Professional Responsibility Law.”

The firm’s representations in legal liability have included:

  • Defending for several years and in multiple jurisdictions a law firm that had advised Enron before its collapse, finally obtaining the voluntary dismissal of the claims by the shareholder class without any settlement or payment.
  • Successfully defending multiple law firms against an array of claims that followed the criminal convictions of law firm partners for fraud.
  • Representing a major, national law firm in a case alleging negligence during the course of prosecuting plaintiff’s patent application resulted in the loss of patent protection.
  • Successfully defending a law firm in an Office of Enrollment and Discipline investigation related to a partner’s alleged patent prosecution malpractice.
  • Successfully representing a Washington law firm in a case establishing the standard by which lawyers are judged on making decisions on unsettled propositions of law.
  • Defending a national law firm whose case was dismissed from the largest securities litigation pending against a law firm at the time.
  • Representing a major law firm in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and in the New York Court of Appeals, leading to opinions that clarified that the defense of in pari delicto is available to a lawyer under New York law when executives of the lawyer’s corporate client commit a fraud that benefits the client company even in the short term.
  • Filing an amicus brief in Stoneridge Partners v Scientific-Atlanta, a landmark securities fraud case that established the scope of liability for lawyers and accountants under 10b-5 of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934.
  • In more than one case, successfully litigated to decision claims of overbilling against law firms.

Many of the firm’s professional liability cases have resulted in reported opinions, including opinions establishing the standards of care in courts of appeal.  (Although these are reported cases, it is the firm’s practice not to identify our law firm clients.)  Subject matter areas of representations include conflicts of interests, corporate governance, contracts, failed businesses, international trade, litigation, finance, partnerships, patents, real estate, securities, taxation and transactions.  The firm also consults and provides ethics advice on income clawback and other Jewel v. Boxer issues for firms or attorneys involved in departure disputes. Our work for member firms of the Attorneys' Liability Assurance Society (ALAS) is well known. A Williams & Connolly partner chaired the Bar committee that recommended major revisions of the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct, and another partner recently served on the same committee and now serves on the Legal Ethics Committee of the District of Columbia Bar. A third partner served as co-chair of the American Bar Association's Committee on Ethics and Professionalism, and a fourth recently served on the D.C. Legal Ethics Committee.

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