Lawyers are professionals, and they are expected to have broad knowledge of the law, particularly in the field in which they practice. When people feel they have been physically and/or financially harmed, they turn to them for advice and possible representation. And it is the legal professional’s responsibility to provide competent representation to their clients.
Lawyers are human, of course, and they can make mistakes. They may ignore or accidentally overlook something they should have known or should have done. They may miss deadlines or misplace important evidence. Or they may simply give bad advice. All of these actions or failures to act can open them up to legal malpractice claims.
And while state law does not require firms carry malpractice insurance, there are simply too many reasons for filing malpractice claims for a lawyer or law firm to forgo coverage. Here are just five of the most common legal malpractice claims.
1. Inadequate Discovery
Whether a solo attorney or part of a large legal firm, a lawyer has an obligation to their client to put in the time and effort to fully investigate their claim. This can mean taking depositions, issuing subpoenas, gathering relevant information, and more. A lawyer that is derelict in carrying out such responsibilities may be liable for legal malpractice.
2. Failure to Calendar
Courts are busy places, and cases that come before them need to follow schedules and filing deadlines. An attorney or firm that misses filing deadlines or hearings can cause their client serious legal harm and can even result in a default judgement against them.
3. Failure to Know or Properly Apply the Law
The practice of law can be very complex with new case law coming out regularly. For this reason, most attorneys tend to specialize in specific areas such as personal injury, corporate law or real estate law. Lawyers who take on cases outside their area of expertise often run the risk of being not fully informed about the law in that unfamiliar field. Or they may be informed but may not be well-versed in the options available to their clients. A lawyer’s failure to meet the standards of a legal practitioner in the field may cause harm to their clients and open them up to a malpractice claim.
4. Conflicts of Interest
It is essential that the attorney-client relationship be one of trust. If, due to another relationship, the interests of the firm, or their own personal interests, a case comes before a lawyer that might test their loyalty to said client, then they should decline representation. Not doing so, or not informing the client and getting their written consent, could open the doors to a possible malpractice claim.
5. Failure to Communicate
An attorney argues a case in court, but it is the client who has the final say. It is therefore essential that clients be kept informed every step of the way on what is happening with their case. Failing to do so can result in a client making decisions that harm them because they were not fully informed.
The Importance of Carrying Legal Malpractice Insurance
If a client feels their lawyer was negligent in their representation, and that act or failure to act caused them irreparable harm, they have the legal right to file a malpractice claim against their lawyer or the firm they work for.
And this is why having legal malpractice insurance is so important. There are many insurance firms that provide this all-important coverage. Some specialize in representing major firms with large staffs. Others focus on smaller, private practitioners or solo attorneys.
Law firms, whether large or small, are in the business of providing advice that best serves their clients’ interests. But mistakes do happen. Securing good legal malpractice insurance serves a law firm’s best interests as well.