Avoid Claims Through Improved Communication

It should be no surprise that attorney/client communication errors are the leading cause of malpractice claims.  In fact, over the last decade, more than one-third of malpractice claims are caused by some communication error.

There are three types of communication-related errors. The most common is a failure to follow the client’s instructions. Often these claims arise because the lawyer and client disagree on what was said or done – or not said or done. These claims tend to come down to credibility, and the case will typically come down to how well the attorney documented his or her file on the matter in question.  Without significant notes or documentation, the chances for the attorney to win decrease significantly.

The second most common communication error is a failure to obtain the client’s consent or inform the client. These claims involve the lawyer doing work or taking steps on a matter without client consent (e.g., seeking or agreeing to adjournment; making or accepting a settlement offer); or failing to advise the client of all implications or possible outcomes when decisions are made to follow a certain course of action (e.g., pleading guilty on DWI; exercising a shotgun clause).

Poor communication with a client is the third most common communication error. These claims often involve a failure to explain to the client information about administrative things such as the timing of steps on the matter or fees and disbursements. This type of error also arises when there is confusion over whether the lawyer or client is responsible for doing something during or after the matter (e.g., sending lease renewal notice to the landlord, renewing a registration, or filing).

On top of being the most common malpractice errors, communications-related claims are also among the easiest to prevent. You can significantly reduce your exposure to this type of claim by controlling client expectations from the very start of the matter, actively communicating with the client at all stages of the matter, creating a paper trail by carefully documenting instructions and advice, and confirming what work was done on a matter at each step along the way.

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