As a solo lawyer with a developing practice in the area of plaintiffs’ side legal malpractice claims (among other areas of commercial/business litigation (check me out! call me!)), I get calls from dissatisfied clients of Minnesota lawyers with increasing frequency (not because there are more complaints of late but because I am getting more notice for this kind of work). The good news for Minnesota lawyers is that the huge majority of complaints are not actionable legal malpractice claims.
In fact, as many callers recount their professional malpractice theories, I am often impressed by the work the lawyers have done on their behalf. Some clients have unrealistic expectations of what they believe was the “just result” they should have obtained. Some (perhaps many or even most) feel they have simply paid their lawyers way too much and have gotten way too little in return.
When I hear complaints about other lawyers that do not seem to rise to the level of professional malpractice, I tell the complainants so, I wish them well, and suggest they consider discussing their theories with another lawyer or two. I am not perfect and maybe someone else will see a viable claim where I see none.
But there is an important common thread in the complaints I am privy to that Minnesota lawyers (whether transactional or trial, of course) should heed.
Respect your clients as people. Do not treat them as dolts to be endured. Do not treat them like gnats that encircle your head and drive you crazy when you are trying to get work done. If you don’t like the words “rapport” or “empathy,” you had better at least try to get comfortable with the concepts.
Many studies have been performed that find a correlation between “poor bedside manner” and medical malpractice claims. I am aware of no similar studies in the context of legal malpractice but every inquiry I get includes some emotional component, some communication disconnect, some sense of personal affront, some hint of antipathy felt by client from the lawyers.
Almost every client who suffers a setback, whether in the context of a legal transaction or litigation, will wonder whether their lawyer could have done something else or something better to avoid the bad result. Among the percentage of this group that will seek out counsel as to whether or not their misfortune resulted in a breach of the appropriate standard of care, clients whose feelings have been hurt by their lawyer, their counselor, their ally, their friend, their confidant, and their protector (for that is how many view their lawyers) are undoubtedly disproportionately represented.
Being a nice caring person while also being a lawyer will not remove the need to carry professional malpractice insurance, mind you, but putting in some extra effort to connect with your clients could pay off in ways you may never know.