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Factors for Deciding Jurisdiction in Legal Malpractice Cases

deciding jurisdiction in a legal malpractice case

LEHRAM CAPITAL INVESTMENTS, LTD., and Daniel Rodriguez, Plaintiffs-Appellees, v. BAKER & MCKENZIE INTERNATIONAL; Baker McKenzie; Baker & McKenzie LLP; and Baker & McKenzie, Defendants

Baker & McKenzie, LLP, Defendant-Appellant

Plaintiffs sued the defendants in Cook County, Illinois, for legal malpractice. Their claim alleged that defendants’ actions caused their legal claim in Russia to be dismissed on statute of limitations grounds.

The issue in question in this appeal case is jurisdiction. Plaintiffs filed in Cook County, Illinois, and the trial court denied defendant, Baker & McKenzie, LLP’s forum non conveniens motion because defendants failed to show the private and public interest factors outweighed plaintiffs’ right to select the forum. Baker & McKenzie, LLP (Baker LLP) filed a motion for consideration, which the trial court denied.

Baker LLP then appealed the Cook County Circuit Court’s decision to deny its forum non conveniens motion to dismiss, arguing that the court abused its discretion when it decided London was not the more appropriate jurisdiction for the Plaintiff’s legal malpractice claim.

Illinois law states that a legal action must begin in the county where a defendant lives or in the county where the transaction in question occurred. However, a court with jurisdiction may choose not to hear a case if another court is more convenient or better suited to decide on the case.

Available and Adequate Forum

One of the factors involved in deciding jurisdiction is whether or not there is an available and adequate alternative. In the underlying legal malpractice case in question, the alleged injury occurred in Moscow. However, it had already been decided that Moscow was not an appropriate jurisdiction.

The trial court declared, and the circuit court agreed, that Baker LLP met their burden for establishing London as an alternative forum.

Private and Public Interest Factors

When an appropriate alternative forum has been established, the court must then consider the relevant private and public interest factors. The private interest factors in Illinois include:

  • Convenience for all involved parties
  • How easily sources of evidence can be accessed
  • Any other factors that impact the ease, speed, and costs of a trial

Defendant Baker LLP argued that London was a more appropriate venue because:

  • Various attorneys involved in the plaintiffs’ claims were in London
  • London is closer to Moscow than London, making it more convenient for the witnesses who were living in Moscow
  • Plaintiff Lehram is in London
  • Plaintiff Rodriguez is closer to London than Chicago
  • Baker LLP’s location in Chicago does not create a substantial link to litigate the case in Chicago

Plaintiffs provided the following private interest factors in their argument for keeping the case in Cook County:

  • The defendants’ headquarters are in Cook County,(they had around 4,000 attorneys in 40 countries)
  • Plaintiff Lehram has no physical office, officers, or employees in England
  • Baker LLP’s general counsel emeritus and senior counsel has access to all the firm’s records and information, and he is located in Cook County
  • Baker LLP did not provide any documentation to suggest witnesses could not testify in Chicago
  • London had no subpoena power over anyone residing in Moscow
  • Baker LLP’s Chicago office had so far been able to obtain necessary documents for litigation
  • Several essential witnesses were residing in Chicago

The appeals court agreed with the trial court in its decision that Baker LLP did not prove transfer to London would be favorable.

Public interest factors in this case include which jurisdiction could better decipher and apply Russian laws, which were a factor in the underlying legal malpractice case, as well as whether or not Cook County residents should be burdened with trial expenses and jury duty. Baker LLP also claimed that London had a stronger interest in seeing a resolution because Lehram was based in London and some of the legal work in question was completed in London.

The trial court ultimately decided that the defendant law firm had been anchored in Chicago for generations, despite its international locations. The appeals court found that the trial court did not abuse its discretion and that Cook County, Illinois was the correct venue for the legal malpractice case.