Legal Malpractice Traps, Part One
We all make mistakes. Even attorneys. Even the best attorneys. Fortunately, most mistakes do not rise to the level of legal malpractice. But there are other problematic attorney practices and habits that often lead to malpractice grievances and claims. The following are some common malpractice traps that most attorneys may avoid if they take the simple, requisite consideration.
Poor communication with clients
This is the biggest complaint that disgruntled clients typically state when deposed as a plaintiff in a legal malpractice claim. Attorneys must frequently communicate with and provide regular updates to clients personally and not through staff or junior associates. Attorneys must always communicate both sides of the progress of a matter and tell clients the latest, whether it is good or bad. An attorney must always timely provide enough information to clients so that the client may maintain reasonable expectations of the outcome of the legal matter for which the attorney is providing representation.
The law does not expect attorneys to act perfectly and nor do clients. At least, most clients. Attorneys must always acknowledge their mistakes as soon as possible rather than concealing the mistake. The early identification of an error typically facilitates the best chance to alleviate or solve the problem before the client suffers any injury or harm. Disclosing a mistake as soon as possible reduces the client’s inevitable surprise, dissatisfaction, and anger.
Practicing outside the area of expertise aka “dabbling”
Legal malpractice cases often occur because an attorney has handled a legal service that was outside of his or her area of specialization or expertise. Generally speaking, personal injury attorneys should not give tax advice and employment attorneys should not advise on filing bankruptcy. Attorneys who are presented with matters outside their areas of expertise should always consider referring the client to a qualified expert, or, at least, an attorney experienced in the field.
Failing to observe deadlines
The failure to file a lawsuit within the applicable statute of limitations is one of the most common malpractice claims, as well as a popular movie plotline. Lawyers may confuse a medical malpractice claims three-year statute of limitations with a wrongful death case’s two-year statute of limitations and fail to realize that the latter rather than the former was applicable. Confusion over which state has proper jurisdiction may also cause statute of limitations problems and expose an attorney to a legal malpractice claim.
While legal malpractice cases may arise in almost any circumstance, the aforementioned events are the most common malpractice traps that most lawyers may easily avoid if they employ basic due diligence, discipline, and care. The ultimate result is an attorney who better serves his or her clients.
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