Do you know where the greatest risks of a malpractice claim come from? More importantly—did you know there are simple steps you can take to reduce the risk of a claim being made against you?
My day job is helping Ontario lawyers understand how they can reduce the likelihood of being on the wrong side of a malpractice claim, and I’m excited to have the opportunity to spread the claims prevention gospel to Law Practice readers. This issue is devoted to helping you avoid the dreaded allegation of legal malpractice, as well as other dangers to your law practice.
My employer’s claims statistics indicate that four out of five lawyers will face at least one claim during the course of their careers. So the odds are you have already experienced a claim or two—and if not, you likely will. Let’s call this the bad news. What’s the good news? Many claims are preventable. The surprise for most lawyers—and the key take-away—is that failures to know or apply substantive law do not cause the majority of malpractice claims. The other significant causes of claims are task and deadline management errors, lawyer-client communications issues and conflicts of interest. I review the common errors in our cover story, and explain how improving basic law practice management skills can reduce your risk of a claim. Conflicts expert William Freivogel brings us up to date on conflicts risks, and Malcolm Mercer walks through the steps law firms can take to implement risk management strategies. Chris Stiegemeyer explains what underwriters look for (and don’t want to see) when reviewing malpractice insurance applications—and he has tips to help lower your premium.
In terms of unpleasant things, difficult clients probably rank slightly behind a malpractice claim for most lawyers. Justice Carole Curtis, who practiced family law for 30 years, discusses how to protect your practice and sanity when dealing with different types of difficult clients, while Sheila Blackford describes how to recognize them. A note of thanks to Sheila for her assistance in putting this issue together as well.
To reduce exposure to other risks, be sure to read Jim Calloway’s tips for recognizing bad check scams, along with David Ries’s explanation of new and expanding obligations to protect confidential client data. With all the foolishness happening on the Web, the issue would be incomplete without a discussion of online dangers. Michael Downey guides us through the trouble spots, with invaluable advice on avoiding liability. It can be a dangerous world out there. I hope this issue of Law Practice helps you stay out of trouble.
Dan Pinnington, Editor-in-Chief