Monday, October 28, 2013

Want to Scare an Attorney? Mention Legal Malpractice

M. Gustafson Gervasi, 2012 -- Author's son in 2012 Halloween Costume

Lawyers go to school for a long time, and once they become an attorney they are usually required to continue attending legal education classes every year.  Here in Wisconsin attorneys are required to attend 30 hours of continuing legal education, three of which must be ethics credits, every two years.  As my reporting year draws to a close I have been attending quite a few seminars this fall.  And the topic that uniformly makes the hairs stand up on the arms of an attorney is legal malpractice.

Just like medical doctors, attorneys can be sued if they fail to provide a client with competent representation. Have you ever found yourself at a social event talking with someone who is an attorney, and your mind jumps to a legal issue from your life?  Chances are you said "hey, your a lawyer!  What should I do about x, y, or z?"  If the attorney was wise, he or she would have said one of two things:

  • "Excellent question, but this is not the proper place to talk.  Why don't you call me Monday to set up an appointment", or
  • "Interesting situation, but it is outside my area of practice.  Why don't you contact my friend who works in that area, or, try the State Bar referral service."
A response of this type should not offend you because the lawyer is following proper guidelines.  It is true that quality legal analysis and advice cannot be given at a neighborhood picnic.  And just because someone attended law school does not mean he or she is equipped to advise you on the ins an outs of estate planning. I often joke -- would you want your allergist to perform your c-section?  Money does not need to be exchanged for a lawyer to trigger a relationship in which he or she can be sued for malpractice.  Here in Wisconsin all it takes is the client relying on the advice.  

Thanks for reading, and enjoy this week of tricks and treats.  And remember, a blog is meant for educational purposes.  It is not legal advice and should not be relied upon -- please consult an attorney in your state for advice specific to your situation.

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