The best risk management advice I will ever have to offer is simply this. Don’t ever forget to take care of yourself. I know it sounds simple; but for so many, it isn’t easy. I really do believe that taking this advice to heart can not only make a world of difference in every lawyer’s personal and profession life, it can also be an effective risk management tool.
Lawyers occasionally reach out to me wanting clarification on what needs to be covered in a letter notifying active clients, whose matters the lawyer will be unable to complete in time, that their lawyer is closing his or her practice. Find out what you need to do.
Solo lawyers continue to occasionally call in wanting to discuss a business opportunity that has come to be known as the “license rental” model. In short, these lawyers are being offered an opportunity to affiliate with an out-of-state firm or occasionally a non-lawyer owed company and it’s often presented as an attractive way to develop a stable flow of recurring business. The out-of-state firm or non-lawyer owned company is wanting to direct cases to the lawyers they are contacting as a way to offer legal services in the jurisdictions in which these lawyers practice. The actual work may occur under an of counsel or contract attorney relationship and participating lawyers will receive some portion of the fee coupled with an understanding that the required amount of work will be minimal. Targeted practice areas include but are not limited to debt settlement, mortgage foreclosures, estate planning, traffic violations, and criminal expungements.
Those who take the time to call me are usually wanting to make sure that, if they sign on to something like this, their malpractice coverage will be in play should a misstep ever occur. Before I answer that question, however, I always start by asking if they have given any thought to whether signing on is ethically permissible because many times the opportunity under consideration often won’t ethically pass muster for a number of reasons. Read on….
If one were to collect everything I and many others like me have written on risk management for lawyers, I suspect the collection would fill a tome or two; but sometimes less is more. It is with this sentiment in mind that I offer the following short malpractice avoidance checklist that covers the basics.
In my role as a risk manager, I’ve heard all kinds of crazy comments from lawyers over the years. For example, during a CLE event with ethics counsel sitting next to me on a speaker’s panel, two lawyer attendees tried to convince others in attendance that the panel’s position on conflict of interest resolution was clearly wrong. In short, they boldly declared there is no such thing as a nonconsentable conflict. All it takes is some creative lawyering and problem solved. The panel and I were almost speechless. We were looking at each other and asking ourselves how in the world could the same lawyer ever represent adverse parties in a litigated matter, just for starters. My response to the panel was “wow, just wow.” I was also thinking to myself “I sure hope we don’t insure these guys.” Read on.
With the release of Formal Ethics Opinion 482 in September of 2018, the ABA finally made it quite clear. Lawyers do indeed have an ethical duty to develop a disaster recovery plan. Do you have yours?
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock of late, I suspect you are well aware of the rise of the attorney wellness movement within our profession. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not here to challenge the importance and value of all that’s going on. While I will admit I’m having a hard time wrapping my head around this mindfulness thing, and when it comes to yoga, well let’s just say I’m more comfortable in the weight room, I do deeply believe our profession is in a crisis, in part, for want of attorney wellness.
For years so many, myself included, have talked about the importance of trying to find a healthy balance between one’s work life and one’s personal life as part of the answer to this crisis. Those who tried and succeeded did so believing that, once there, all would be good with the world. I’m not buying it anymore, and with this post, I am publicly stating I will never encourage anyone to try to find a healthy work-life balance again!
Lawyers and those in their employ can and will make a mistake from time to time. It happens. Should a significant misstep ever occur on one of your matters, what might the fallout be? Think about this as a member of our learned and honorable profession. Clearly the client will be harmed in some fashion. Now, put yourself in your client’s shoes and ask who should be held responsible, particularly if a financial loss is part of the equation? You know darn well what the answer is. After all, if a lawyer representing you on a personal injury matter blew a statute that resulted in a lost opportunity for any kind of recovery, you would expect to be made whole and you know it. This is why I don’t get the excuses. Purchasing malpractice insurance isn’t about protecting lawyers. It’s about protecting clients should something go wrong, which makes it, at least in my mind, the right thing to do.
An attorney never gets an accountability pass just because the representation is framed as a favor. One can’t casually look into a legal matter, pass along a little advice and expect there to be no fallout if something goes wrong later on. An attorney is either in or out. There is no middle ground here.
Common reasons lawyers close their practices include a medical disability, wanting to retire, a move out-of-state, or a career change. While the specific steps that need to be taken and the time frame involved can vary significantly depending upon the reasons driving the closure and the type of practice being closed, the following checklist covers the basics of what most lawyers will need to think about.