Litigation is often expensive, time consuming and emotionally draining for all those who are involved. The time it takes to prepare for a defense, meet with a lawyer, and participating in proceedings is a huge process in itself. When an attorney is sued for malpractice, the scrutiny normally involved in a case is even more intense. It can be extremely difficult to handle the attention given to all the aspects of your professional life in addition to everything else. Unfortunately, occurrences of legal malpractice suits has increased significantly in recent decades making it more important than ever to take extra precautions when dealing with clients. This short guide can give you some ideas to follow for avoiding attorney malpractice suits altogether.
1. Communication Is Key.
It seems simple and obvious, but you’d be surprised how many attorneys end up neglecting this important area. The majority of malpractice suits could have easily been prevented with just a simple correction in communication between attorney and client. Better communication can also benefit overall client satisfaction as well. Take the time to really listen to and address your clients’ concerns. Be sure to ask questions about their expectations – you’ll find by doing this the answers you get will surprise you.
Keep clients updated and in the loop about events, changes, and developments to their case. You can do this by providing copies of relevant documentation and by taking advantage of email. This not only keeps them informed and feeling that you’re working hard on their case, it also speeds up the process of billing. When a client sees you are working consistently on their case, they will not hesitate to pay you in a timely matter. Answer inquiries promptly. Many malpractice suits could have been prevented simply by the attorney returning calls or emails in a timely fashion. If you’re available to return a call or message within 24 hours, have a secretary or assistant ready to do it for you.
Issues discussed with clients, opposing counsel, and anyone else involved in the case should be documented. This means keeping notes on file, making copies, and confirming letters. In the event that you’re sued for not providing proper advisement, you will have all the documentation needed to counteract such a claim.
3. Avoid Dual Representation.
Dual representation occurs when a single attorney ends up representing more than one party in a matter where they may have a conflict of interest. This happens when an attorney represents a corporation, partners, shareholders, an employer and employee, a broker and an agent, or multiple parties who signed a contract. The best thing to do is avoid these situations. If you must represent multiple parties, it’s a good idea to prepare a notification of potential conflict and have them each sign a waiver. Continue to be cautious however. If an attorney advises one party member to the detriment of another, it can be cause for a malpractice suit.
4. Statute Of Limitations.
Surprisingly, failure to file an action within the correct statute of limitations is the second most common cause of malpractice suits. As soon as a client begins discussing a claim with you, find out what the statute of limitations for their specific case is. Once you accept the case, keep the dates of the statute in mind and marked on your calendar. This mistake is often made by attorneys handling a case that falls outside their range of expertise. Consult another attorney who does specialize in the area or else pass on the case altogether.