Departments Whoops—Legal Malpractice Prevention
Screen Clients First—Avoid Problems Later
J. Randolph Evans, Shari L. Klevens, Lino S. Lipinsky
This Department is sponsored by the CBA Lawyers' Professional Liability Committee to assist attorneys in preventing legal malpractice. For information about submitting a manuscript or topic suggestion, contact Andrew McLetchie—(303) 298-8603, firstname.lastname@example.org; or Reba Nance—(303) 824-5320, email@example.com.
About the Authors
Randy Evans is an author, litigator, columnist, and expert in the areas of professional liability, insurance, commercial litigation, entertainment, ethics, and lawyer's law, and handles complex litigation throughout the world. He has authored and co-authored eight books and several newspaper columns. He co-chairs the Georgia Judicial Nominating Commission and serves on the Board of Governors of the State Bar of Georgia— firstname.lastname@example.org. Shari Klevens is a partner in the Atlanta and Washington, IDC offices of McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP. She represents lawyers and law firms in the defense of legal malpractice claims and counsels lawyers concerning allegations of malpractice, ethical violations, and breaches of duty. Shari is the Chair of the firm's Defense and Risk Management Practice— email@example.com. Lino Lipinsky is a partner in the Denver office of McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP. He represents clients in real estate, trade secrets, professional liability, creditor's rights, employment, and contract cases. Lipinsky is a member of the CBA Board of Governors, serves on the Board of the Colorado Judicial Institute, and is Immediate Past President of the Faculty of Federal Advocates—firstname.lastname@example.org.
Problem clients rarely get better with time. Instead, over the course of a representation, they often shift from merely being challenging clients to being legal malpractice claims in progress. As a result, screening clients has become an increasingly important part of legal malpractice claim prevention.
For many attorneys in today's difficult economic world, screening clients seems like a far-fetched concept, akin to telling a starving man to watch what he eats. Many firms are just glad to have clients; screening the few they have appears to be the least of the firm's worries.
However, according to the data, problem clients are often worse than no clients at all. Clients who pay fees, but who also bring legal malpractice claims, only hurt—not help—the attorney and can result in a large net loss for the firm. The challenge comes in screening out the problem clients during the intake process.
Screening clients has a different meaning depending on the size, type, and location of a law practice. For solo practitioners, it will mean identifying the risk factors for new clients (preferably through use of a checklist) and then balancing the risks against the potential rewards of the representation. For smaller and mid-size firms, screening involves identifying standard practices and procedures suitable...