Lawyers Should Avoid These Common Legal Malpractice Pitfalls
Lawyers come into their line of work facing a slew of expectations when it comes to their professional care and knowledge. The wrong move could easily result in a client taking action against you for legal malpractice.
Raffi Kodikian is Senior Vice President and Lawyers Professional Liability Practice Leader at Founders Professional and has nearly two decades of experience in broking malpractice coverage for lawyers. He notes there are several common pitfalls that increase the likelihood of incurring a malpractice suit.
Most Common Reasons for Legal Malpractice Claims
Malpractice suits against lawyers occur when the professional decisions of that lawyer result in losses for the client- or are perceived to result in a loss for the client. Though there are many ways to screw up a case, the most common errors are made because of distraction, carelessness, or lack of knowledge. Here are the top reasons lawyers get sued by their clients.
Missing Important Deadlines/Statutes of Limitations
The professional world in general isn’t very understanding about missing deadlines. When lawyers fail to file important documents on time, the client’s case could suffer. Clients can lose a lot of money if their case is thrown out or certain information isn’t allowed in because of missed statutes of limitations.
While this mistake can sometimes be blamed on procrastination, it could also occur because of filing errors, calendaring errors or plain forgetfulness on the part of the lawyer. Lawyers sometimes fail to record certain court dates correctly, leading to missed hearings or crucial appointments.
Raffi Kodikian says the best way to avoid these issues is to set up at least two separate calendar systems for the entire office that clearly show who created which calendar entries. A master calendar and backup calendar can be used, and firm management must ensure dates are cross-checked in case of accidental deletion or other entry errors. Both attorney staff and non-attorney staff have to be responsible for keeping this calendar up-to-date, he says.
Whether there is poor communication within the firm itself or just with certain clients, communication issues can cause huge problems. Attorneys that aren’t readily available to return calls or keep clients updated on their case may be asking for problems. Failure to inform is a major malpractice pitfall that is frequently cited by understandably frustrated clients.
When there is a lack of clear communication, the attorney-client relationship can quickly go downhill. Some of the most common issues are failure to fully inform a client of case development, failure to obtain client consent or failing to accurately follow the client’s wishes for the case.
In most cases, being quick to respond and using a commonsense approach is enough to keep clients happy. It’s important to listen to the client, says Kodikian. Provide clear, documented explanations about what is being done and what is not being done to have a record of the case that is easy to review for both your team and the client if questions ever arise. All legal procedures, documents, and case results should be clearly explained in plain language.
Inaccurate Insufficient Research
If the work and case research aren’t complete, the results are likely to suffer. Lawyers that aren’t competent at research or don’t have a firm grasp of the law are going to face a lot of poor case results with angry clients. In some cases, lawyers make assumptions about legal principles and dealings that aren’t accurate and lead to a host of problems. Lawyers have to know when their knowledge isn’t complete enough to make a call without further research.
On top of that, the lawyer is responsible for their team and must supervise the staff, contracted employees, or other professionals that may be working the case. Mistakes made by those on the team will impact the outcome as a whole and, ultimately, the head lawyer is going to be responsible for the work done.
Careful, methodical research of all procedures, casework, and points of relevant law should be completed to avoid erroneous assumptions. Lawyers need to practice continued education to ensure they stay abreast of any changes or developments in the law. For areas outside your typical practice, Kodikian says you should consult an expert co-counsel for informed support or refer the case out.
Conflicts of Interest
Taking on one client could potentially harm your relationship with another client. Before taking on a new client, carefully screen to ensure the client isn’t going to create an actual (or even potential) conflict with any current or former clients. Always err on the side of caution here, says Kodikian, and get written, informed consent from both (or all) involved parties before taking on a client that sparks any doubt.
Clients expect to get undivided loyalty from their attorney. Anything that seems less than quality work will make a client feel as if they didn’t get the best representation. When a client feels a suit’s results weren’t what they could have been, especially if they see a conflict of interest as the cause, they may file suit against their former counsel to regain some of their losses.
About the Author
Raffi Kodikian is a Vice President and Lawyers Professional Liability Practice Leader with Founders Professional. Raffi assists retail insurance agents across the Country with securing professional liability insurance solutions for law firms of all sizes. Raffi can be reached at Raffi.Kodikian@founderspro.com.