Russo v. Griffin

147 Vt. 20, 510 A.2d 436 (1986)



The relevant geographic area for purposes of the standard of care in legal malpractice cases is not the community in which the attorney's office is located or the nation as a whole, but the jurisdiction in which the attorney is licensed to practice. Accordingly, the appropriate standard of care to which a lawyer is held in the performance of professional services is that degree of care, skill, diligence and knowledge commonly possessed and exercised by a reasonable, careful and prudent lawyer in the practice of law in this jurisdiction.


The client and a brother were shareholder of a family paving business. When the client brought out the brother, the attorney assisted with the negotiations and drafted the paperwork. The attorney did not advise the client to obtain a covenant to not compete from the brother. Three months later the brother started a competing paving business. The client filed suit against the attorney for legal malpractice. At trial, two experts from a neighboring city testified that the attorney's conduct did not meet the standard of care and two experts from the city where the attorney practiced testified that the attorney's conduct did meet the standard of care. The trial court accepted the testimony of the latter two experts based on an application of the locality rule.


Should the testimony of the two experts have been relied upon by the trial court in determining whether the attorney had met the standard of care?




The court reversed and remanded for a new trial. The court held that the applicable geographic scope of reference for two experts should be for the jurisdiction where the attorney has been licensed, i.e., the state. Considering that the two experts were not experts in the state where the lawyer was practicing, they could not be considered experts in that jurisdiction.

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