For most lawyers, horror movie villains and things that go bump in the night can’t hold a candle to the heart-stopping, terrifying thought of a malpractice claim (or even a bar complaint). Because, while werewolves or menacing grifters chase unsuspecting teens through dark forests and haunted hallways, the sun eventually always comes up and the hero always makes it out. However, complaints or legal malpractice claims – even meritless ones – are usually much less predictable, and those plot twists are what make them so much scarier.
Just like swimming in the dark or descending into an unlit basement, all Oklahoma lawyers should know the obvious pitfalls of the legal profession and work to avoid them.
- Missing deadlines
Although the rest of these aren’t necessarily in order of importance, there’s a reason this is the first on the list. Use a dual-calendar system – every time. Calendar-related issues accounts for one third of all claims both in Oklahoma and nationwide.
- Stress and substance abuse
It’s well known that the practice of law is one of the most stressful professions. Know your mental state and don’t overlook or dismiss concerns. The Lawyers Helping Lawyers Assistance Program is available to all OBA members and provides free assistance.
- Poor client relations
Manage client expectations with simple steps like starting with an engagement letter – and remember to always respond to your clients in a timely manner.
- Ineffective client screening
Be selective and never ignore red flags. If a potential client has hired and fired several lawyers recently, ask enough questions to know why.
- Inadequate research and investigation
Dabbling in areas of law you don’t normally practice in can be dangerous. Don’t get in a hurry, do your homework and know your limitations.
- Conflicts of interest
Establish and maintain a system to evaluate all new matters. Develop protocols for onboarding new lawyers to ensure no accidental overlap in matters.
- Inappropriate involvement in client interest
Do not be a stakeholder in your clients’ businesses and utilize your conflict-of-interest system to avoid even accidental involvement.
- Inadequate documentation
Be fastidious with your record keeping, stay organized and always get it in writing.
- Suing for client fees
Billing as you go will avoid one single, large bill for an entire matter at the end. This helps manage cost and payment expectations for both you and your client.
- Believing it can never happen to you
You’re a good lawyer, but any lawyer can be sued and even claims without merit require defense. The best way to avoid the hardship that can come with them is to maintain quality professional liability insurance.
Although statistics show every attorney should expect at least two or three claims in their career, making a concerted effort to avoid the most frequent mistakes can certainly help. As always, we’re here to help, so contact us if you have any questions about how to better protect your business and your reputation.