A frequently asked question from a solo attorney is why they need a backup attorney in order to obtain their Lawyers Professional Liability Insurance Coverage. The rationale for a solo having a backup attorney is to make sure that if due to unexpected circumstances the insured attorney cannot appear in for a court date or meet a client that (s)he as another attorney that can temporarily fill in to keep the practice going. In larger firms, the assumption is that the law firm has other attorneys that can temporarily fill in. But solo attorneys do need to have a plan.
The Lawyers Professional Liability Insurance Carrier will not charge extra for the backup attorney, nor does the backup attorney need to be listed on their letterhead, website or office door. In many cases solo attorneys will have “mutual aid” agreements for other attorneys. This does not need to be a formal agreement, but all carriers require that the attorney have such a plan. The best plans are ones that have been formalized to the extent that the backup attorney with some assistance is able to know who to obtain access to the solo insured’s attorney’s calendar and case files. And the solo attorney’s office staff is aware of the arrangement.
With planned absences an attorney usually can arrange his/her schedule to accommodate upcoming cases, deadlines and client meetings. It is also good form that if you cannot be contacted for an extended period of time that you prearrange with your staff(if any) or another attorney to handle calls and client emergencies.
Even beyond the Lawyers Professional Liability Insurance Carrier’s backup requirements, is preparing for the unexpected absence. Attorneys without any plan can place a major burden on their loved ones, staff and clients. Unfortunately, things happen. The unexpected absence can be temporary or permanent.
Some Basic steps:
1. Your backup attorney should have access to your files and client information in the event of your unplanned absence.
2. The designation of the backup attorney should have authorization to review your client files and determine which files/clients need immediate attention and who would notify clients of the situation.
3. The plan should be reviewed with your staff, loved ones and your backup attorney, so if the unexpected happens it can be addressed the in best manner possible.
Solo attorneys work hard to establish a practice. This is just one more step in the estate plan that helps maintain the maximum value of the practice you have built. At least once a quarter we have a solo attorney that has passed away and we can find no one that wants to assume responsibility tying up the loose ends on the Lawyers Professional Liability Insurance.