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As COVID-19 heated up, so did the severity of legal malpractice claims

by | May 8, 2022 | Legal Malpractice |

The legal industry had to make significant adjustments to continue to serve clients during the pandemic, which raises the question of what impact that has had on attorney malpractice. According to one survey beginning in 2019 but completed during mid-2020 when the pandemic was just taking off, the frequency of claims lawyers and law firms submitted to their malpractice insurers remained mostly static.

However, claim severity increased, with a bigger fraction of claims “resulting in larger multi-million-dollar payouts,” said Insurance Journal.

Nuts and bolts of the survey

Legal malpractice insurer Ames & Gough conducts this annual survey of other malpractice insurers about recent numbers, dollar amounts and types of attorney malpractice claims received from law firm or attorney clients. Insurance Journal quoted an Ames & Gough executive as saying that pandemic claims could still increase due to the overall economic slowdown and law firm adaptations made to stay open during COVID-19.

Legal practice areas with the most malpractice claims

During this time, the top three practice areas with the highest numbers of legal malpractice claims were:

  1. Trusts and estates: The surveying insurer felt that this could be linked to new developments in laws allowing family members in some jurisdictions to sue an attorney for alleged malpractice committed while representing an elderly or ill client.
  2. Business transactions
  3. Corporate and securities

Other findings

Additional trending issues that contributed to the malpractice claims during this period included:

  • Poor lawyer communication
  • Conflicts of interest
  • Missed filing deadlines and other errors related to dates – in many jurisdictions, authorities extended some filing deadlines during COVID-19, which may have confused some lawyers.
  • Inadequate understanding of the law – Ames & Hough said this was likely due to the sudden changes to many federal, state and local laws in response to the pandemic.

Ames & Hough anticipates that legal malpractice claims from the pandemic period will continue even afterwards.

Revisiting the latest survey

As of this May 2022 writing, Ames & Gough should release its legal malpractice survey results from the later stages of the pandemic soon. We will report back in this space.