Protect Yourself from Being Sued
What is the worst nightmare for a practicing lawyer? Ranking right after having no business and no clients is the specter of being sued. It used to be that lawyers would not sue other lawyers either because they knew them or because the local lawyers formed a small community. The expansion of the number of lawyers and the lack of personal contact between them has lessened if not overcome those restraints. Suits against lawyers are now common. Malpractice lawyers estimate that every lawyer will have between three and five suits or bar complaints during their professional career.
How to protect yourself from such suits? Here are several ideas:
• Don’t make mistakes. This simple concept is obvious. If you don’t make any mistakes, it will be difficult if not impossible to sue you. Ensure that you don’t miss deadlines and appear when in doubt.
• If you make a mistake, admit it. Perfection is a wonderful aspiration, but lawyers are human. Therefore, we all make mistakes, including me. My experience is that the frank and candid admission of an error can often engender client sympathy. Such clients are more likely to remember that “to err is human, to forgive is divine.”
• Cover-ups are like Watergate. Most of us know what happened at Watergate: The cover-up compounded the original crime! You’d be surprised at how often lawyers attempt to create phony notification letters even if they use their current letterheads rather than the letterhead in use at the time of the supposed letter.
• Don’t sue your client for fees. This action can often trigger a malpractice countersuit. (More on this in related article.)
• Have malpractice insurance. Typically a malpractice insurance premium amounts to around $250 per month. It won’t protect you from being sued, but it sure makes life more comfortable when the malpractice carrier takes over your defense. Enough said!
Of course there are some situations in which the lawyer was not at fault and still stands a chance of a malpractice suit. There is a recent Virginia case where a lawyer filed a notice of appeal while he was suspended for 30 days. But, he had not been notified of the suspension at the time of filing. The Virginia Supreme Court held that his filing was null and void even under these admitted facts! Chuck’s Rule No. 106: No protection is foolproof.
Chuck Driebe, editor-in-chief of SOLO, practices in Jonesboro, Georgia. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.