3 ways to avoid the problems that lead to legal malpractice

Often, a person’s first encounter with an attorney tends to be a stressful occasion. It’s all about getting through a tough, critical moment. A criminal case. Divorce. Bankruptcy. Or a complex, nervy business matter. You want the matter to proceed smoothly and end cleanly. You don’t want to feel your lawyer harmed you.

But that’s exactly how an increasing number of people feel. According to a recent survey by the risk management firm Ames & Gough, legal malpractice cases are on the rise. Lawyers are taking note as claims become more frequent and more expensive, but what could this mean for you? Is there anything you can learn about how to avoid the sorts of problems that take one legal matter and drag it out into another?

The factors behind the rise in legal malpractice

The survey reflected a rise in legal malpractice cases and expenses from 2018 to 2019. However, the report suggests that the economic conditions of 2020 will likely lead to even more legal malpractice claims in 2020. The survey’s authors say they expect another rise in legal malpractice cases due to several factors:

  • Greater financial pressures. As people and businesses everywhere grapple with the new economic pressures of 2020, the stakes for their legal matters continue to rise.
  • Increased complexity. The survey found that Business Transactions and Corporate & Securities represented a significant share of all legal malpractice concerns, especially among the largest claims. As business models grow more complicated, the legal work to properly support them also becomes more complicated.
  • Conflicts of interest. They say everything is connected, but attorneys owe their clients a thorough conflict evaluation. When attorneys and firms fail to root out conflicts of interest, clients may suffer, and attorneys may face legal malpractice suits.
  • Poor communication. Again, the issue of complexity seems to be a recurring theme in legal malpractice. Ames & Gough found that poorly written engagement letters contributed to anywhere between 10 and 50 percent of all legal malpractice claims. Clients deserve to know exactly how the attorneys view their commitment, spelled out in language that is clear and precise.

Using your knowledge to your advantage

So, how can you make sure you get the representation you deserve? The Ames & Gough survey suggests faulty legal service is less often about incompetence than it is about details. You want to mind these details. And you also want your attorney to mind these details from the outset:

  • Make the most of your initial search and consultation. You want an attorney with the experience and understanding necessary to deal with the complexity of your concerns.
  • Ask your attorney to explain how the firm’s conflict evaluation can root out any potential conflicts. Address any concerns you may have up front.
  • Review your expectations for representation. Review the attorney’s engagement letter carefully. See how these items line up. Don’t accept vague language or confusion.

Taking these steps may not guarantee you the result you desire, but they may steer you away from legal counsel that is inherently flawed.

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