The American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Lawyers’ Professional Liability recently issued its eighth Profile of Legal Malpractice Claims which examines data collected from participating lawyer malpractice insurers covering the years 2016-2019.
While the report gives a high-level overview of claims data, at Protexure we are taking a deeper dive into some of the implications this data makes.
Previously we explored the Interaction Between The State of The Economy and Lawyers Malpractice Claims. Here we learned law practices present a variety of risks that seem to trend in relation to the economic cycle.
Continuing our analysis of the American Bar Association’s most recent Profile of Legal Malpractice Claims, another takeaway we can glean from the data presented is the conclusion that certain relatively small and easy risk control activities can in fact reap big rewards when it comes to managing lawyer’s professional liability risk. Specifically, the data show a steady decrease in claims arising from administrative errors over several different study years, suggesting that risk control focused on avoiding such errors pays off.
Administrative Error Claims
In the survey, Administrative Errors include failure to calendar properly and failure to react to calendar, clerical errors including a variety of missed deadlines, loss of documents or evidence, and general procrastination. The data show a steady decrease in these errors as a percentage of the overall number of claims across the last three iterations of the study. This trend supports the notion that efforts to reduce these types of errors will correlate with a reduction in claims for any particular law practice.
This is good news because administrative errors are, arguably, some of the easiest to avoid. So many of these tasks are well-defined and relatively easy to routinize. They don’t require judgment calls and frequently can be accomplished by non-lawyer support staff. And often there are good technological tools that provide excellent assistance in managing the tasks.
Risk Management for Administrative Errors
What does this mean from a practical risk management standpoint? It means that you should, in fact, invest in a good, easy-to-use, comprehensive calendaring system to help make sure important dates are recorded accurately, and then institute a strong routine for entering data into the system and for reviewing that calendar at appropriate intervals to make sure that you are alerted with enough lead time to act in a timely manner on each deadline within each matter. It means, as well, that you should embrace technology that allows you to sync calendars and docketing systems across your practice so that you have fail-safes and back-ups, reducing the risk that you won’t be alerted to an important date or needed action.
It means that it will be worth your while to invest energy in making a thorough road map of the administrative tasks involved in every matter when you first open that matter. It means, too, that the checklists risk control experts regularly suggest you use are, in fact, effective, and you should, in fact, really use them—which means actually reading through them and physically checking off the tasks as they are considered and completed.
Finally, it means that, even though these administrative steps may be the least interesting part of a matter, they might be the most important in terms of protecting your client and yourself from problems. Are there lots of other risks that present potential trouble for you? Certainly. But, when there are so many professional liability risks that are much more complicated to control, no lawyer should forgo the low-hanging fruit that administrative error risk control presents.