How do Attorney Malpractice Claims begin? When a client expects one result, but gets another result, it’s not uncommon for a client to sue or allege attorney malpractice. What can you do to help protect your law firm from legal malpractice claims? When explaining the services that you will provide to the client, never leave what legal services will be provided open to interpretation.
Strong communication is the best way to ensure that client expectations are set properly from the beginning of the attorney/client relationship. Become a better communicator with your clients by following these tips:
- Keep an open line of communication: Even if a client is bad at staying in touch, it’s important that you continue to communicate. For long running cases, make sure that you continue to communicate in the manner that the client prefers. If you need answers to questions, and do not receive a response to an e-mail, don’t assume that the client is ignoring you, (s)he may never have gotten the e-mail. (Not the 1st time communication gets caught in a spam filter.) If that client does not respond to the e-mail. Pick up the phone. Continuous communication helps prevent things from getting heated. By all means make sure that you thoroughly document all client communications.
- Have an effective client engagement/disengagement letter process: The client engagement letter needs to state precisely what services you will and will not provide, along with expected deadlines and costs. Discuss the engagement letter legal services with the client so they understand before signing. When your legal services come to a close, make sure to send out a disengagement letter closing the attorney/client relationship. (Your local bar is a good source for boiler plate engagement/disengagement letters.)
- Don’t hide undesirable information: Mistakes happen and things go wrong. It’s part of life. But instead of trying to hide a missed deadline or bad result from a client, it’s better to explain the problem once it’s noticed. (Also likely required by rules for professional conduct.) If possible make a plan to address this issue to keep damage to a minimum.
- Get lawyers professional liability insurance: Even the best attorneys can run into problems and errors do happen. Sometimes even with the best communication skills and even the best possible result for your client, you will get sued for attorney malpractice. It’s highly recommended that you protect your law practice and your personal assets with attorney malpractice insurance.
- If you get sued: Notify your Lawyers Professional Liability Insurance carrier as soon as practical. Many attorney malpractice insurance policies have deadlines and spell out exactly how claims are reported to the carrier. Make sure to follow those guidelines. Consult your agent if you have any questions on claims reporting.