A Concrete Step to Avoiding Legal Malpractice Claims

posted by Mike Regnier on Thursday, January 28, 2016

One key to reducing the risk of a legal malpractice claim is to be upfront and clear about what service(s) you are providing clients. The first step in that process is to provide your client with an engagement letter.

Imagine you hired a cement contractor to repair a section of your sidewalk. He shakes your hand, he tells you it will cost about $200.00 to fix that two foot by three foot section and not to worry about it. You leave for work, glad to have a professional fixing your problem.

When you come home, you find that the contractor has ripped out the entire sidewalk and asphalt driveway, replacing it all with brand new cement – complete with an intricate scrolled pattern around the edges. He hands you a bill for $7,500.00 and is shocked that you are not happy. When you ask him why he tore apart your perfectly serviceable driveway, he looks at you blankly and says, “The asphalt was old and not nearly as good as cement. You needed it.”

Clients can feel the same way with their attorneys. They may think they have come to an attorney with a small matter and be shocked to receive a much more complicated work product at a far greater price than expected. The opposite is true too – clients may think that their attorney is handling a matter for them when in fact the attorney is not. Both of these situations can lead to misunderstandings and, ultimately, malpractice claims.  

Spelling out what you are doing, what you are not doing, and how you are going to charge for it is vital to meeting your client’s expectations and your responsibilities. The engagement letter can prevent fee disputes on the work that is going to be performed and prevent the attorney from being held responsible for a matter he/she had no intention of handling. Putting those things in writing at the beginning of the engagement can go a long way towards avoiding claims down the (cement) road.