North Carolina Law Review

University of North Carolina School of Law

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Chapel Hill, NC 27514

North Carolina's Duty to Read: The Demise of Accountability for Transactional Attorneys?

March 27, 2014

92 N.C. L. Rev. Addendum 147 (2014)


The attorney-client relationship is somewhat of an enigma: despite the legal community's general reputation, clients continue to place their trust in attorneys. Many clients have no legal background and thus are forced to rely completely on the advice of their attorneys, trusting that their attorneys know the law and can produce competent work product. This relationship is similar to that of a doctor and patient: the client goes to the attorney to rely on the attorney's legal knowledge just as the patient goes to the doctor in order to rely on the doctor's medical knowledge. In order to hold those professionals accountable for the quality of their services, an individual can file suit against her doctor or attorney for professional negligence.


The ability to bring professional negligence claims is a recognition of the general belief that clients and patients should be able to comfortably rely on a professional's judgment. Patients should be able to pay doctors for their medical knowledge and not be expected to independently diagnose themselves. However, after Marion Partners v. Weatherspoon & Voltz, LLP, North Carolina law effectively requires clients to do just that with respect to the attorneys they hire. The North Carolina Court of Appeals held in Marion that an individual can hire an attorney to review a contract and advise her on its contents, but if the client does not also read the contract herself, then the client is barred from recovering damages for malpractice even if the attorney negligently advised her. 


This Recent Development argues that the Marion court misapplied precedent in concluding that the traditional duty to read is applicable to legal malpractice cases. It further argues that even if the duty to read applies in the professional legal context, a client's duty to read should be delegable, and thus when a client hires an attorney to read and inform her on the contents of a contract, the client should not be required to read the contract herself. 



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