“It Is Highly Questionable Whether Attending Law School Is a Legally Cognizable Injury”

From Duncan v. Klein (Ga. App. Nov. 29, 2011) (some paragraph breaks added), though note that the court’s main rationale is lack of proximate cause, rather than the statement I quoted in the post title:

These appeals arise from a legal malpractice case in which Jeffrey W. Duncan claims that lawyer Daniel M. Klein gave him erroneous advice about whether he could sue his employer for violations of federal employment discrimination laws. Klein allegedly told Duncan that such a lawsuit would not succeed, and believing as a result that he had no recourse against his employer, Duncan later resigned his employment. Duncan then enrolled in law school, where he learned that Klein might have given him bad advice, and he filed a lawsuit against his former employer, which he later settled. Notwithstanding that he eventually sued his former employer, and notwithstanding that he evidently got something out of that lawsuit, Duncan recovered less from his former employer, he says, than he would have recovered if Klein had advised him correctly and he had sued his employer more quickly.

Moreover, Duncan contends that his decision to resign his employment was based on the advice he received from Klein, and as a result of his resignation, he had to enroll in law school, which caused him to incur substantial costs and to suffer an extended separation from his family….

Negligence is the proximate cause of an injury only when the injury is “the natural and probable consequence of the negligence, such a consequence as under the surrounding circumstances of the case might and ought to have been foreseen by the wrongdoer as likely to flow from his act.” “The injury must be the direct result of the misconduct charged; but it will not be considered too remote if, according to the usual experience of mankind, the result ought to have been apprehended.” The limitations of proximate cause reflect “a policy decision that, for various reasons including the intervening act of a third person, the defendant’s conduct is too remote from the injury to attach liability….” …

[A]fter Duncan allegedly received bad advice from Klein, he made a decision to resign from NGK and go to law school. After he was admitted to the New England School of Law, Duncan refinanced his house, borrowing $100,000 on his house to pay bills and take care of his family while he attended law school, and he borrowed an additional $160,000 to pay the costs of law school. Regarding his alleged emotional damages, Duncan explains that he had to leave his family in Georgia to attend law school in Massachusetts, and he notes the difficulties that the separation caused his marriage and the pain of separation from his daughter.

It could be argued that, but for the alleged malpractice, Duncan would not have resigned his job with NGK, decided to enroll in law school, incurred debts to support his family and pay for law school, or suffered a separation from his family while he pursued his studies in New England. Nevertheless, 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.

But in any event, we can discern nothing in the record to suggest that Klein and the firm should have foreseen that, as a result of giving bad advice to Duncan about the merits of his claims against NGK, Duncan would elect to enroll in a 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. The alleged malpractice might well be a cause of Duncan leaving his job with NGK, but it is not the proximate cause of his free choice to remake his life and enter into the practice of law. The “intervening decisions by [Duncan] render [the alleged] negligence [of Klein and the firm] too remote to satisfy the proximate cause requirement for a legal malpractice claim.”

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