Loco Lawsuits: You Made Me Go to Law School

Law school can be tough on a person. Just ask Georgia lawyer Jeffrey Duncan. In 2005, he sued another Georgia lawyer, Daniel Klein, for malpractice. Among other things, Duncan wanted damages for the cost and emotional distress of attending law school.

Duncan’s saga began in 1991 when he went to work for a subsidiary of a Japanese company. Duncan later felt the company treated its Japanese employees better than its American employees so, in 2001, he contacted Klein about filing a discrimination claim. In April 2001, Klein told him a treaty between the United States and Japan allowed the company to discriminate in favor of its Japanese employees so any claim against it would be “completely barred.”

Duncan’s job dissatisfaction grew so he applied to several law schools. He was admitted to Boston’s New England School of Law in July 2001 and resigned from his job as of August 2001. While attending law school, Duncan learned he might be able to file a claim against his former employer. He filed a discrimination lawsuit against the company in federal court in Maryland in late 2002. The case was settled in June 2004.

Duncan then sued Klein and Klein’s law firm for malpractice. Among other things, he alleged he resigned from his job only because of Klein’s advice and, as a result, “he had to go to law school.” Duncan wanted damages for attending law school, including the costs of school, the costs of refinancing his house, and the emotional distress he said he suffered because his family remained in George while he was in law school.

The trial court dismissed that part of the lawsuit. It reasoned that Duncan could have sought those damages in the lawsuit against his former employer. Because he didn’t, he couldn’t sue Klein for them. The Georgia Court of Appeals took a broader view. Even if Duncan’s decision to go to law school stemmed from Klein’s advice, “it is highly questionable whether attending law school is a legally cognizable injury, notwithstanding that the rigors of law school are well known and undoubtedly unpleasant to some extent.” Moreover, the court said, neither Klein nor his firm could foresee that Duncan would decide to go to law school “in a faraway place, leave his family behind, and refinance his home to cover the costs of law school and the expenses of his family in the meantime.”

Although claims relating to the delay in filing Duncan’s discrimination claim were sent back to the trial court, the decision makes clear no one forced him to go to law school. Still, thousands of lawyers likely believe the appeals court’s declaration that law school was unpleasant “to some extent” was a grievous understatement.

I learned law so well, the day I graduated I sued the college, won the case, and got my tuition back.

Fred Allen

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