On November 19, I gave a speech to a joint meeting of the Austin Bar Association’s Solo and Small Firm and Women’s Lawyer Sections. Part of that speech was 8 ways to avoid legal malpractice claims, and I’ve been asked by one of the attorneys in attendance to post those tips here. I can’t repost the entire speech, but the brief summary is as follows:
1. Define who you represent. When multiple parties are involved, make it clear who you are and are not representing.
2. Define the scope of the representation. You need to tell clients what matters you are representing them on, and if applicable, what matters you are not providing advice on.
3. Define when the representation ends. If you accept representation, you need to send a letter when the matter is closed letting the client know that you will not be taking any more action on their behalf. Similarly, if you decline representation, send a non-engagement letter letting them know that you will not be representing them.
4. Communicate! Communicate! Communicate! The number one cause of grievances is that lawyers don’t communicate with their clients. You need to communicate with your clients. And when you do communicate, do it effectively. People don’t want to sue those that they like. If your clients know that you care about them, they will be much more forgiving of any errors you make.
5. Say “I’m Sorry.” If you make a mistake, you have an obligation to tell your client, and in the process, let them know that you’re sorry. A simple apology goes a long way to reducing legal malpractice claims.
6. Have a calendaring/deadline system that works. Missed deadlines may be the number one cause of legal malpractice claims. Have a system that reminds more than one person in the office about deadlines and make sure you calendar the proper deadlines in matters.
7. Think twice about entering into a business deal with a client. Not only are these deals regulated by the disciplinary rules, but if the deal goes bad, there is a presumption that the transaction was not fair to the client.
8. Think twice about suing clients for fees. A grievance or legal malpractice counterclaim is almost a guaranteed result.
I hope this is helpful, and I’d be interested in hearing others’ thoughts on this matter.
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