The ABA Standing Committee on Lawyers’ Professional Liability compiled a comprehensive Profile of Legal Malpractice Claims, evaluating claims from 2008 through 2011. According to the Committee’s report, real estate lawyers held the dubious honor of having the highest percentage of malpractice claims, followed by family law, trust and estate, and personal injury law. Forty-five percent of all malpractice claims were filed due to substantive errors, like failure to know or properly apply the law, discovery errors, procedural choice errors, missing deadlines, and conflicts of interest. Administrative errors counted for the second-highest reason for claims, including procrastination in performance or follow-up (read: not returning phone calls), lost files, calendaring errors, and other clerical errors. Together, nearly three-quarters of all legal malpractice claims filed during the Committee’s study period were due to errors. That is a frightening statistic.
One way to avoid becoming the subject of a malpractice claim is to choose clients carefully. Everyone has experienced “problem” clients—clients who won’t leave you alone, who lack the ability to pay, and who seem to criticize your every move. Attorney Sally Field (no relation to the actress) compiled a list of the top ten warning signs for problem clients:
- Clients who want to change lawyers in the middle of the case;
- Clients who trash the lawyer they just left;
- Clients who are reluctant to answer basic questions;
- Clients who are overly opinionated about the law without justification;
- Clients who have unreasonable expectations;
- Clients who micromanage everything;
- Clients who won’t let you end an excessively long initial client interview;
- Clients who want to exact revenge or punishment through the legal system;
- Clients who make negative comments about judges, courts, and the judicial system; and
- Companies with unusually high turnover of key staff or unusual corporate structures.
Bottom line? Many potential malpractice claims can be avoided by refusing to represent those clients who seem like trouble from the outset. Avoiding mistakes is helpful, too.
Sally Field, along with John Palmeri, will discuss common reasons for lawyer malpractice lawsuits in a panel discussion moderated by Heather Kelly. Join us for this interesting and informative breakfast CLE on Tuesday, September 27, 2016. Call (303) 860-0608 to register, or click the links below.