Clients suing their lawyers has become more acceptable and easier to do, says a veteran attorney reflecting on changes during the past three decades in the legal malpractice arena.
A solo lawyer who has specialized in malpractice since 1989, William Gwire explains that lawyers have lost what used to be long-term relationships with clients. “Law has become a more fungible commodity, so there’s not quite the guilt in suing your lawyer,” he says.
Among those lessons, Gwire shares three of the top reasons that lawyers get sued for malpractice – and what you can do to mitigate the risk.
Reason 1: Overwork – “Lawyers are stretched too thin and not devoting enough time to the proper care and treatment of their cases,” Gwire says. “Malpractice happens as a result of simple oversight.”
Solution: “Slow down and give your client’s case the attention it deserves,” Gwire advises. It may seem like a no-brainer, but “don’t shortcut the needed work and try not to get overloaded with cases in your practice.”
Reason 2: Inexperience – “Lawyers, both young and old, are handling matters that are beyond their skill and experience, and for the younger lawyers, there’s not enough oversight from more experienced attorneys,” Gwire reports.
Solution: Your client’s case is not the place to learn a new practice area, Gwire says. “Don’t take on work that you’re not capable of handling, or where you can’t supervise the work of inexperienced associates.”
Reason 3: Inadequate case evaluation – Gwire warns that too many lawyers rush into lawsuits only to discover much too far down the road that their case is in serious trouble.
Solution: “Put the work into evaluating the case up front,” Gwire says. “Do the research, interview the witnesses, question your client as the opposing counsel will.”
Finally, there’s one important strategy, perhaps above all others, to avoid a malpractice suit: Apologize.
“I have found that clients can be as upset, if not more upset, by the lawyer’s refusal to accept responsibility and say they’re sorry than they are about the loss itself,” Gwire says.
Read the full profile on Gwire, “Legal Malpractice Attorney Offers Insight.”
ABA Law Practice Today is a publication of the ABA Law Practice Division.