How can I avoid malpractice claims?

You have made it through law school, clerking jobs and internships and now you are a full-fledged attorney ready to make your mark in Florida law. One of your first decisions is likely to be whether to be whether or not to carry malpractice insurance. Although the state does not require it, you should consider it, especially if you have set out your shingle in a solo practice.

The American Bar Association offers some advice for avoiding two “rookie mistakes” that can lower the chances of being sued for malpractice. They do not involve real mistakes on your part, however. They include the perception of your clients and how and what they believe you did or did not do. These issues involve client expectations and how you must manage them. The ABA suggests two ways of accomplishing this: client selection and communications.

Although you may want to take on any case that comes to you when you’re starting your practice, it is essential to choose your clients wisely. When you conduct your initial consultation, ask enough questions to understand not only the issues of the case but what your potential clients expect you to do for them and what they expect to happen with their case. If you suspect that the case is not winnable or that you do not have the right skills to represent them, save everyone some frustration and advise your clients to find another attorney.

Communication is a significant factor in keeping clients happy and making them feel at ease with your handling of their legal matter. An ABA committee informs members that 13 percent of malpractice complaints are due to a lack of communication with clients. It does not matter how well you know and apply the law. Without regular, ongoing conversations, clients can begin to have expectations of the case that differ from the attorney’s views.

Even if there is no action in the case, lawyers should make an effort to communicate on a regular basis—at least once a month. You can schedule update calls, send letter re-stating what your conversation covered and even include descriptive notes in your invoices.

It is imperative to document all communications, including e-mails, phone calls and letters, and keep a copy in the client file. This step will help remind clients of not only the contact but the information you shared, and hopefully, keep everyone on good terms.

This article offers valuable information about client communications for all attorneys. However, it should not replace the advice of an attorney.

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