Avoiding Legal Malpractice Suits
Any professional who deals with other people’s money, property, or well-being is at risk for a malpractice suit. Attorneys are particularly at risk if a client is unhappy with their job performance.
What follows are some tips to mitigate or even avoid a legal malpractice lawsuit.
1. Careful client selection:
A client who has sued his previous five attorneys is likely to sue you, too. Beware of the client who cannot bear talk of realistic odds, or who refuses to entertain reasonable offers to settle. There are clients in the world who truly believe that a “good” lawyer hands them the exact result they want. Think carefully about whether the fees you’ll earn will counterbalance the post-verdict legal malpractice suit.
2. Practice Perfectly:
You’re unlikely to actually be perfect at all times, but those days when you fail to research, assume you’re remembering a point of law correctly, or fudge on a deadline are fertile ground for a legal malpractice suit. Get in the habit of always reviewing the law for every new client. No matter how many times you’ve read it before. Set up calendar tickles to remind you of deadlines before you miss them. Discuss tricky cases with a mentor or colleague before you assume you’re seeing the whole picture. Doing your job right is the best way to avoid a client telling you that you did it wrong.
Clients like lawyers who make their case a top priority. Unless your client lives in your office, they won’t know what priority you’re giving their case unless you tell them what you’ve done for them, lately. Whether your client waits for your call or bugs you for the daily update, be sure your clients know what is going on. Include what has happened, what might happen next, what you’re doing about it, and when they should expect to hear more news. Most importantly, make sure your client knows what decisions they need to make. Furthermore, when they will need to make them, and all the information they need so their decision is reasoned and informed. Clients who can see you working hard for them are less likely to file a legal malpractice suit and claim that you didn’t do the job for which they hired you.
At some point in your career, might make some mistakes. You’ll lose sight of one client while working hard for another, or you’ll miss an essential point of law, or someone in your office will botch an important interview. No matter what goes wrong, consider your client. They might be less likely to sue you if you acknowledge your mistake and whatever damage your client suffered because of it. If you can salvage the case with some fancy legal work, do so. If you can’t, sit down with your client and give an honest assessment of just how badly you screwed it up. Offer to make it right, if possible. If it isn’t possible, and your legal malpractice insurance has to get involved, the process might at least be less painful if your client doesn’t think you have to be taught a lesson about what you did wrong.
Take Steps to Minimize Your Risk
No amount of planning, perfection, communication, or honest zealous representation can completely insulate you from a legal malpractice claim. However, taking steps to minimize your risk will help you practice with more confidence. As well as keep your clients happy, and at least be prepared to defend yourself if a claim arises.
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