A grievance letter from the State Bar or the receipt of a lawsuit from a former client can be an unsettling experience for any attorney. After taking a deep breath and remaining calm, remember that we’re living in a litigious world and you’re not the only good lawyer who’s dealt with this.
I’d like to share eight actions you can take to cope with the situation at hand and work toward a positive resolution:
1. Acknowledge that someone believes you may have made a mistake. People--especially lawyers--tend to push matters aside and avoid dealing with difficult issues. Move forward to quickly address the problem and remedy the situation.
2. Call your malpractice insurance carrier. They may be able to hire an attorney to repair the claim. Lawyers are sometimes reluctant to contact their malpractice carrier, but immediate action could result in resolving the potential claim without great expense.
3. Collect and review all files, correspondence and documentation related to the potential claim. Your recollection of the facts may not be correct, especially if a significant amount of time has passed since handling the matter.
4. Seek the counsel of a partner, colleague or another attorney. Most mistakes can be remedied if immediate, thoughtful action is taken. The North Carolina State Bar’s comprehensive FAQ section may answer your initial questions. Or you might prefer to call the American Bar Association’s telephone hotline for attorneys who have questions about malpractice claims at 312-988-5754 or 312-988-5755.
5. Remain professional and courteous in dealing with the situation. The way you deal with the Bar, a potential claimant, your own insurance carrier and your own lawyer can go a long way in resolving a grievance or potential claim.
6. Listen to your lawyer. The old adage “a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client” can be applicable in the case of a grievance or a potential malpractice claim. Your lawyer is an objective third party who can look at the claim without emotion that may otherwise cloud judgment.
7. Learn from the experience. Identify and determine whether there are actions you could’ve taken to avoid the current situation. If such actions exist, incorporate them into your practice.
8. Conduct an “audit” to avoid grievances and potential claims in the first place. There are many online tools available to help you through this process. Performing a thorough examination of your practices before an incident occurs and making any necessary changes, is the best way to avoid a grievance or malpractice claim now and in the future.
Implementing these suggestions will help you weather the storm and put you in the best position for a positive outcome.