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Quick Ethics Tips for Attorneys

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Published on: March 7, 2014

A lawyer’s responsibilities on a day to day basis involve keeping clients happy and looking out for their best interests, but must also consider what is ethical or not.  Here are some quick ethical tips attorneys should always think about in regards to their clients.

 

  1. Recognize that conflict waivers don’t last forever.
  2. Make sure your non-lawyer employees are not practicing law.
  3. Don’t neglect trust accounting.
  4. Keep your opinions off-line!
  5. Vet all expert witnesses.

 

What are one or two tips you always have to remind yourself of?

 

By: Dan McKenna, JD, RPLU

Our Engagement Letter Review

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Published on: February 20, 2014

 

Well, we are wrapping up our first month of engagement letter reviews and I’m very happy to say our CNA Lawyer’s Professional Liability insureds are coming through with flying colors!
By CNA’s definition, an engagement agreement is a written agreement between attorney and client in which key terms of the legal representation are defined, including the identity of the client, the scope of the representation, legal fees and expenses, responsibilities of the law firm and client, termination of the representation, and file retention and destruction.
Does anyone have anything else they recommend adding?
Thanks to our CNA Professional Liability insureds!

By Dan McKenna, JD, RPLU

For more information regarding engagement letters for lawyers, please see theLawyer’s Toolkit.

The Hammer Clause and How It Affects Your Right to Settle

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Published on: February 13, 2014

If you have a professional liability policy, you should be aware of your rights to settle in the event that a claim occurs. Many policies include what’s called a “hammer clause”. This allows the insurance company to cap its liability to the amount for which the claim could have been settled plus any claims expenses incurred. If the insured chooses to continue to fight the matter, he or she will be responsible for any additional settlement and fees incurred.

A sample “hammer clause” may read:

“Insurer will not settle or compromise any claim without the consent of the insured. If, however, the insured refuses to consent to a settlement or compromise recommended by insurer and elects to contest such claim or continue legal proceedings in connection with such claim, then insurer’s liability for the claim shall not exceed the amount for which the claim could have been so settled, plus claims expenses incurred up to the date of such refusal.”

A policy that does not have a hammer clause allows the insured to have more control in a claim and the insurance company must respect the insured’s “final say”. In our Lawyer’s Professional Liability program through CNA, the policy form has recently been revised to remove the hammer clause. According to CNA, “the prior language gave the Company the option to walk from a claim at the amount that the claim could have been settled, thereby limiting its exposure to an acceptable settlement regardless of the consent of the insured. [...] Having it [the hammer clause] in the policy was a Company advantage. Having it removed is an insured’s advantage.” Make sure you read your professional liability policy’s insuring agreement so that you know what your rights are around settling a claim.

2014 California Lawyer’s Professional Liability Insurance Report

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Published on: February 10, 2014
When it comes to the relationship between lawyers’ liability claims and the economy, the trend is fairly predictable. A rough financial period usually breeds a multiyear spike in professional liability claims, and the 2008 financial crisis and resulting dismal economy are no exception. In 2011 the number of claims increased 6 to 10 percent from the previous year, and in 2012 they jumped another 10 to 20 percent, according to a survey by risk management consulting firm Ames & Gough. But as the economy slowly stabilizes, 2013 seemed to be the first year indicative of a true leveling off.One obvious reason for more claims during an economic dip is that when things go wrong financially, people look to find fault. For example, real estate malpractice claims have been off the charts in California (and nationwide) which is easily traceable to the collapse of the market over the past five or six years, according to Randall A. Miller, a legal malpractice attorney and founding partner of Miller LLP in Los Angeles. “Obviously, the housing market generated a lot of claims against lawyers for errors committed during the course of those ill-fated transactions,” he says. “In fact, I’m impressed by the resiliency of this trend. Most of the legal work that resulted in malpractice claims would have been undertaken by 2007 or 2008. And yet, this work is continuing to generate lawsuits, which is emblematic of the depth of the real estate market fallout in California.”

Another unusual trend Miller has noticed of late is the emergence of very-high-dollar claims – some estimated at more than $50 million. Although he thinks this may be an aberration in the long term, it also highlights how intricate and high-stakes today’s transactions are, even compared to just ten years ago. “IP protection, for example, can be very expensive,” says Miller. “If a lawyer commits an error in an IP deal, he or she incurs a high amount of risk. It can be devastating for an insurance company.”

More generally, though, Miller expects that as the economy gets back on track, the number of claims will return to prerecession levels. One of the reasons for this evening out is a noticeable return to normalcy for many attorneys regarding their practice areas. Recession-time claims are often the result of what Mitchell & Mitchell professional liability program manager Dan McKenna calls “dabbling” – lawyers venturing outside of their usual practices.

“Now that the economy is more stable, my staff and I have seen less ‘dabbling’ ” says McKenna. “During the recession years, a lot of attorneys were forced to start taking any work that would walk in the door. For example, an attorney who does estate planning but whose work is slow would take on a personal injury case, which he might not know much about. Now we’re back to people showing more focus in their specialized practice areas, which is a really good thing for the legal profession.”

(Source:CalLawyer.com)

California Liability Insurance for Lawyers

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Published on: January 21, 2014

Professionals MeetingLawyers work closely with their clients, gathering very personal details with which they build cases upon in preparation for trials. This puts lawyers and law firms at a unique risk for loss or corruption of sensitive information and legal records. Errors and omissions insurance (E&O), also known as legal liability insurance, is designed to protect legal professionals from this risk and from litigation associated with data loss, negligence or failure to produce results due to negligence.

Some risks that lawyers may be liable for include:

  • Identity theft of clients
  • Misplaced legal documents
  • Loss or corruption of files due to hacking
  • Forensic and crisis management expenses after a loss
  • Failure to perform a job properly

Though these instances do not frequently occur, they do happen and they can add up to be extremely costly. E&O insurance is not required by law (though lawyers must inform clients if they carry this type of policy or not), but law firms would be wise to consider this specialized coverage for the specialized risks they face. Lawyers can best serve the public when they themselves are protected from charges of negligence or some other form of error that affected a client.

Without E&O insurance, a law firm may face financial ruin and a tarnished reputation in the event of an unfavorable legal malpractice judgment. The expenses incurred after just one incident could skyrocket well into the hundreds of thousands of dollar, possibly closing the doors of a law firm for good.

Lawyers are all too familiar with liability situations and should take steps to protect themselves from such cases as well. Policies range in price and coverage, and are offered to both law firms and individual lawyers. Contact your independent agent to learn more about E&O options to protect your livelihood and reputation from your unique workplace risks.

Do you want to learn more about protecting your law firm? Call us at 888-512-8878 for a quote on California liability insurance for lawyers.

Attention Lawyers: It’s Time to Improve your Marketing Strategy

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Published on: September 20, 2013
4/15/2013 5:59:33 AM

As a lawyer, you may not always have the time to focus on branding, marketing strategy and the likes. After all, you are pretty busy with clients and their problems to focus on your own growth! However, that does not make your growth any less important. At one point or another, it is critical to focus on branding and making a name for yourself. A solid marketing strategy may be all you need to gain more clients and exceed!

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Of course, you may be a little lost at first. Have NO fear! Our agents at Mitchell and Mitchell Insurance Agency are here to help. We have a full understand of your profession and we know what it takes to improve your reputation. This week, we have a few tips to offer:

•    Make a professional profile on LinkedIn. This is a great marketing tool that will build your connections with the local community and beyond. If you enjoy it, you may want to jump on the Facebook and Twitter bandwagon, too!

•    Make it a point to call a client a day just to “check in” and “catch up.” This will keep you in their mind while proving to them that you care and take their business serious.

•    Attend community functions, events and more. This is a great way to network with others.

•    Take the time to get to know colleagues, clients and other lawyers. Make lunch plans once a week!

•    Keep your website updated. Having a clean and professional site will show clients and potential clients that you are organized. This is a great way to showcase your services, as well.

What are you waiting for? It is time to build your reputation with the tips above! If you are strapped for time, do not worry. Tackle these tips one at a time. Even slight changes and efforts will impact your image and reputation. Good luck!

Avoiding Workers Compensation Fraud in the Workplace

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Published on: February 20, 2013

As the owner of a law firm, it is important to understand that it is not uncommon for employees to claim an injury. Yes, both you and your employees may be sitting down at a desk all day, but that does not make such a scenario any less likely.

Unfortunately, there are times that an employee will take advantage of workers compensation. This is known as workers compensation fraud. Being aware of this issue is the first step to preventing it from happening. Here are a few ways you can avoid being fooled into a fraudulent workers compensation claim.

  • Report all injuries IMMEDIATELY. It will not only speed up the recovery process, but will make the possibility of a fraud claim much less likely.
  • Keep employees educated when it comes to workers compensation fraud. He or she must be aware of what is considered fraud in order to avoid it.
  • Train all supervisors at your firm to take care of injuries and claims. He or she may understand the case and employee much better than you and their knowledge will come in handy when analyzing the claim.
  • Run background checks on employees and new candidates. If he or she has a history of claims, it may be a sign.
  • Always investigate the accident immediately. Find out who has witnessed the accident and exactly how the accident happened. If there is no witness, consider that a red flag.
  • If you ever suspect fraud, do not hesitate to speak with your insurance agent and begin an investigation process.

If you fall victim to a fraud workers compensation claim, your premium may end up suffering in the long run. It is crucial to investigate all cases ALL the time!

For more information on your lawyers insurance or workers comp policy, please give our agents a call.

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The Risks and Rewards of Social Network Use as a Lawyer

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Published on: February 4, 2013

It is no secret that there is talk of social media everywhere you turn. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are becoming increasingly popular, especially among businesses. As a lawyer, it is in your best interest to learn more about these outlets, too! Having a social media presence can be great for your reputation, if it is being used correctly.

The downside? Those who are not careful with social media outlets may end up facing liability issues and other risks. These risks may include:

  • Decreased productivity in the workplace;
  • Employment related claims and issues;
  • Harm to your reputation;
  • Professional liability exposures;
  • And more…

The last thing any lawyer or firm needs is a lawsuit or issue due to poor social media usage. Fortunately, there are always ways to “play it safe.” How? Allow us to give you a few pointers…

  • Implement an effective social media policy in the office;
  • Make it a point to not “friend” coworkers and subordinates;
  • Be careful when posting about touchy subjects and/or inappropriate content;
  • Avoid posting inappropriate pictures, memes, e-cards, etc. Something you may find funny may not be funny at all to your fans or followers.
  • Monitor the use of social media in the office.

The bottom line: Social media is here to stay! It is important that you embrace it, but do so with caution. If you are careful and follow the above guidelines, you are sure to make the most of this outlet and keep lawsuits and liability disasters far away.

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Learning to Listen, Part 2

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Published on: January 28, 2013

Welcome back!

Last week, we discussed the importance and components of active listening. As a lawyer, listening to your client should always be your number one priority! As promised, we are back this week with a listening exercise. This may be a great exercise for interns, newcomers or possibly everyone. It never hurts to sharpen up on your skills.

Start by grabbing a partner and designating an “A” and “B.”

  1. “A” should begin by discussing a scenario with “B.” Exhibit any emotion you want (anger, frustration, excitement, etc.)
  2. Next, “B” must summarize what “A” has said and use the same emotions expressed.
  3. “A” should then critique “B” and their ability to summarize and identify the proper emotion.
  4. Repeat the exercise with a different emotion and switch roles.

Are you ready to get your ears in shape? Tackle this listening exercise whenever you have a spare moment. It is a great way to train incoming lawyers or those who aspire to become a lawyer. In the end, those who expand their listening skills will become better communicators.

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Learning to Listen, Part 1

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Published on: January 21, 2013

As a lawyer, it is no secret that you must be an active and great listener, especially for your clients. No matter how long you have been a lawyer, it never hurts to improve your listening skills. This week and next, we have a few pointers to suggest!

Let’s start with the three primary component of active listening:

#1: As a listener, you should summarize or paraphrase what the speaker says. You may think this sounds funny, but you are NOT mimicking or parroting. You must word it in a way that suggests that you have heard the client correctly and are simply proving that you understand their words, 100%.

#2: It is important to express acknowledgement and feelings that the speaker generates. You want to sympathize and let the speaker know that you are aware of their frustrations/anger/aggravation.

#3: Do not be afraid to ask questions. An active listener will give the speaker freedom to express all concerns. By asking questions, you will seem engaged and will be able to gather additional information.

These three components combined will ensure that you are actively listening to your clients (or even coworkers!) You may be surprised that you may not be as good of a listener as you had thought.

If this is the case, be sure to come back next week. We have a few listening exercises to share with you! You may want to use these exercises as a part of your hiring process or simply to build your own skills.

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