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Legal Malpractice Tips
1. Be careful good neighbor
Just as the fictional character Wilson from the past comedy hit Home Improvement gave sound advice to his out-of-sorts neighbor, "Tim the Tool man" Taylor, casual professional contacts can be contradictory to sound risk management for a law practice. Claim adjusters who defend legal malpractice claims are all too familiar with the lawsuit in which the attorney who gave "casual legal advice" at a social mixer or over the neighbor's fence one sunny afternoon. Avoid this conversation. Have the contact make an appointment, where you can gather all of the applicable facts for proper analysis. This is the most appropriate time and place for you to offer sound advice and consultation.
2. Client & case screening
Based upon a financial relationship, the attorney-client association is one that must also be built upon mutual trust, confidence and communication. When screening a potential client, it is important for the attorney to do so, not a staff person. Some view this as below the standard of care for an attorney to ask staff to assess the clients initial legal needs.
Almost one third of legal malpractice claims revolve around administrative or procedural errors, which can be easily evaded. By placing checks and balances within the calendaring process will provide your firm a tremendous help with this issue. Missed statues and deadlines are the number one reason in this claim category. No matter how the firm keeps a master calendar, all attorneys in the firm should keep a personal calendar as well. With today's technological advances, this shouldn't be an issue. However, human error continues to be.
4. Client Communication
Approximately 15% to 20% of Legal Malpractice Claims come from communication problems between attorney and client. Responding timely to all client communications will save you much more time in the long run. For the most part, clients understand that an attorney may not be able to take a phone call at a specific moment or respond immediately. However, responding within a reasonable amount of time to a clients question or need will ultimately behoove an attorney greatly. Not only can reasonable communications with your client save you a on malpractice claim or a migraine of dealing with a BPR matter, but can also generate referrals for your law firm.
Surety within the firm, its lawyers and staff can certainly help avoid legal malpractice claims. Always make sure of statutory deadlines, documents were filed in a timely fashion, calendar entries, papers were served and follow up with client requests.
6. Suing Clients for Fees
Legal Malpractice Insurance applications typically ask the following question for good reason. (Does the firm currently have more than 25% of billings more than 120 days past due)? Underwriting views this as a "RED FLAG" if answered, "yes". This is a clue that the firm is not staying on top of their receivables and sooner or later the firm will probably sue a client for a fee. Hence, provoking a counter-suit by the client.
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