No Locality Rule for Lawyers

The Tennessee Supreme Court has rejected the notion of a locality rule for lawyers in legal malpractice cases.

In Chapman v. Bearfield, No. E2004-02596-SC-R11-CV  (Tenn. S. C., November 6, 2006), the Court said that "a single, statewide professional standard of care exists for attorneys practicing in Tennessee and that expert witnesses testifying in legal malpractice cases must be familiar with the statewide professional standard of care." 

Stated differently, "[a]n attorney practicing in Tennessee, then, must exercise the ordinary care, skill, and diligence commonly possessed and practiced by attorneys throughout the state. Indeed, while there may be local rules of practice within the various judicial districts of our State, there are no local standards of care. There is only one standard of care for attorneys practicing in Tennessee: a  statewide standard."  (Emphasis supplied by the Court.)

The Court noted that the locality rule applicable to health care providers was a creature of statute, not common law.  The Court rejected the argument that a locality rule should be applicable to lawyers, giving three public policy reasons for its decision:

"First, if a local professional standard of care prevailed, plaintiffs might have difficulty proving their legal malpractice cases because local attorneys might not be willing to speak against their colleagues.  Second, local variations in the standard of care could create an inefficient and inequitable morass of professional standards of care, reducing the likelihood that some attorneys would face malpractice claims while increasing the likelihood for others. Finally, the emergence of the internet as a primary tool for legal research undercuts historical transportation and communications arguments favoring local variations in the standard of care."  (Citations omitted.)

Read the opinion here.