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WPI 107.01 Existence of Attorney-Client Relationship

6 WAPRAC WPI 107.01Washington Practice Series TMWashington Pattern Jury Instructions--Civil

6 Wash. Prac., Wash. Pattern Jury Instr. Civ. WPI 107.01 (7th ed.)
Washington Practice Series TM
Washington Pattern Jury Instructions--Civil
April 2022 Update
Washington State Supreme Court Committee on Jury Instructions
Part IX. Particularized Standards of Conduct
Chapter 107. Legal Malpractice
WPI 107.01 Existence of Attorney-Client Relationship
(Name of plaintiff)claims that(name of defendant)was acting as [his] [her] attorney. In order to prove this,(name of plaintiff)has the burden of proving each of the following propositions:
(1) That(name of plaintiff)sought or received(name of defendant)'s advice on legal matters;
(2) That(name of plaintiff)believed that(name of defendant)was acting as(name of plaintiff)'s attorney; and
(3) That(name of plaintiff)'s belief was reasonable based on the circumstances, including but not limited to(name of defendant)'s words and actions.
[Discussing the subject matter of a transaction does not by itself establish an attorney-client relationship.] [Preparing documents that formalize a transaction does not by itself establish an attorney-client relationship.]
[Payment, or non-payment, of a fee is a circumstance for you to consider in determining whether an attorney-client relationship existed. [The fact that a fee was paid, or was not paid, does not necessarily establish whether(name of plaintiff)formed a reasonable belief that(name of defendant)acted as [his] [her] lawyer.]]
[An attorney-client relationship may exist even if the agreement between the attorney and client is not in writing.]
[When a client employs substitute counsel in the same matter, any previous attorney-client relationship ends.]
Use this instruction when there is a factual dispute concerning the existence of an attorney-client relationship. Use bracketed material as applicable.
If the plaintiff is a legal entity rather than an individual person, then the instruction will need to be modified accordingly.
Questions of law versus questions of fact. The duty of care is a question of law for the court. If, however, the material facts are in dispute about whether the plaintiff and defendant had formed an attorney-client relationship, then the jury decides the questions of fact that bear on whether the attorney-client relationship exists. Stiley v. Block, 130 Wn.2d 486, 498–502, 925 P.2d 194 (1996); Bohn v. Cody, 119 Wn.2d 357, 363–64, 832 P.2d 71 (1992).
Reasonableness of client's belief. When a person talks with a lawyer and subjectively believes that the lawyer is acting on his or her behalf, that subjective belief, standing alone, does not establish an attorney-client relationship. State v. Hansen, 122 Wn.2d 712, 720, 862 P.2d 117 (1993). The plaintiff must establish that he or she reasonably formed a belief that the defendant was acting as the plaintiff's attorney; reasonableness must be based on the circumstances, including the attorney's words and actions, and other facts that occurred during the time of the allegedly tortious acts. In re Egger, 152 Wn.2d 393, 409–11, 98 P.3d 477 (2004); Bohn v. Cody, 119 Wn.2d at 364.
Discussion of transactions; preparation of documents. If the evidence of an attorney-client relationship consists in large part of discussions of the subject matter of a transaction, or preparation of documents relating to the transaction, the first two bracketed sentences may be given. Bohn v. Cody, 119 Wn.2d 357, 363–64, 832 P.2d 71 (1992).
Written agreement not required; payment of fee not required. An attorney-client relationship may be implied by the conduct of the parties—the agreement, scope, and terms of the relationship do not need to be spelled out in writing. In re Egger, 152 Wn.2d 393, 410, 98 P.3d 477 (2004). Likewise, payment or non-payment of a fee is not conclusive proof that an attorney-client relationship was or was not formed—it is simply one of the circumstances for consideration. In re Egger, 152 Wn.2d 393, 410, 98 P.3d 477 (2004); In re McGlothlen, 99 Wn.2d 515, 523, 663 P.2d 1330 (1983).
Employment of new counsel. The instruction's last bracketed sentence applies when substantial evidence shows that alleged malpractice occurred after the defendant's attorney-client relationship with plaintiff ended. Even if an attorney fails to file a notice of withdrawal of counsel, the relationship still terminates upon the plaintiff's employment of replacement counsel, as long as no prejudice resulted from the failure to notify the client. Lockhart v. Greive, 66 Wn.App. 735, 740–43, 834 P.2d 64 (1992).
[Current as of September 2018.]
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