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Protect Your Law Practice from the Start: How Attorneys Can Prevent Professional Liability Lawsuits

28. October 2013 16:36

Lawyer signs important paperwork to inform clients about his practices and forestall future E&O claims

A recent news item involving the retrial of Kennedy cousin Michael Skakel has the writing staff here at the insureon blog thinking about the concerns attorneys face from Professional Liability suits.

If you’re unfamiliar with the story, Michael Skakel was convicted of murdering Martha Moxel in 1975. Eleven years into his 20-year sentence, Skakel has been granted a retrial from a judge who ruled he wasn’t properly defended the first time through the legal system. According to the judge, Skakel’s original attorney, Michael Sherman, neglected to represent Skakel to the best of his abilities.

Instead, the judge ruled, Sherman accepted the case to “bask” in its limelight and failed to develop a sufficient defense for Skakel.

Attorneys familiar with this story know the repercussions Sherman faces in the event it becomes clear that Skakel is innocent: the looming malpractice suit could be devastating to Sherman’s credibility and his practice. So the question emerges: as an attorney, what can you do to make sure you’re protected from professional liability cases from unhappy clients?

Professional Liability Insurance for Attorneys: A Shield for Errors and Omissions Lawsuits

You might be thinking, “There’s no way I’ll ever face an E&O lawsuit. I’m careful and diligent, and I don’t let media attention affect how I do my work.” While you’re right in assuming that E&O lawsuits against attorneys are relatively rare, that doesn’t mean they’re completely outside the realm of possibility, even for small practices and sole proprietors.

And consider this: often, an E & O claim is more a reflection of a client’s demeanor and attitude than it is of an attorney’s actual performance. And when that one client takes you to court over your performance, Professional Liability Insurance is the surest way to fund the associated expenses.

Here are some things to think about to help prevent Errors and Omissions claims from occurring in the first place.

Lawyers: How to Limit the Damage from Professional Liability Lawsuits

  1. Document everything. A few days back we discussed risk prevention strategies for healthcare professionals. One of the strategies we mentioned was thorough documentation. The same rule applies to attorneys. In addition to worrying about filing deadlines and court appearance dates, you’ve got to juggle meetings with clients, potential witnesses, and more. Missing any of these deadlines or appointments could harm a client’s case. Though thorough documentation of your time may not directly prevent a potential lawsuit, it will certainly help you decrease the amount of energy you expend defending any E&O case you find yourself fighting.
  2. Keep up with CLE programs to understand recent changes in the law. Continuing to educate yourself on the intricacies of new laws is crucial to ensuring that you approach cases from the angle most useful to your clients. And while paying attention to minor changes in courthouse filing protocol may seem tedious, it can save you a major headache down the road: even the most carefully prepared defense can be derailed if you miss the filing deadline because of changed office hours.
  3. Screen clients before signing them; communicate often once you have. Many potential malpractice suits can be avoided by identifying a client’s expectations from the outset. If a client expresses expectations that will be difficult if not impossible to meet, then make sure they understand (and that it’s documented) that they may not get the results they want. What’s more, if you do sign a client, make sure they’re aware of every step you’re taking with their case. Don’t assume they understand the strategy you’re implementing – break it down and explain it to them clearly and in layman’s terms so there’s no confusion that could trigger an E&O suit later.

know your business risks

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Lawyers | Risk Management | Small Business Risk Management

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