This issue has arisen in a number of conversations with clients.
Why would you engage a contract lawyer? For one of several reasons: (i) even out the work flow; ii) engage expertise you don’t possess at the moment; (iii) gain time to observe the quality of work of a potential hire; and (iv) determine if you have enough work in the long term to hire a permanent employee.
Once you hire a contract lawyer, whether for a designated number of hours or a specific project, do you know whether that lawyer is covered under your errors and omissions insurance policy? Often, policies are written to include all the attorneys you hire after your policy commencement date up to the end of that policy term period. Then, your premium is based for the following year on the higher number of lawyers now on staff.
But, the question remains, are you covered for what is, in essence, a part-time employee. Check with your broker; read your policy. Make sure you know the answer. Many lawyers require that their contract lawyers specifically name them on their policies with an endorsement. Of course, remember that most policies are claims-made policies, not occurrence policies. So, your policy must be written in such a way as to cover negligence asserted in the current period though the alleged negligence was committed by your contract lawyer in an earlier period and is no longer present. Ask. Be sure.
In a recent case, the 7th Circuit appellate court said that the law firm failed to comply with its contractual notice requirement to the carrier. The law firm was required, as is true in most such contracts, to notify the carrier of a possible claim of negligence. The law firm said that notifying the carrier of every possible claim would delve it into minutiae and was unreasonable. The Court said the facts of this case suggest that any reasonable attorney should have known that a claim was likely … and therefore the firm owed a duty to the carrier to notify the carrier.
If you take the time and expend the funds to purchase insurance, you must review your contractual obligations of notice … otherwise you’re wasting your money and leaving yourself exposed to massive claims.
It didn’t take all that long … I received in the mail today, along with more holiday greeting cards, an errors & omissions insurance policy application. Finally, the insurance industry is showing its true colors in the recent campaign to have uninsured lawyers painted with the “yellow band” brush.
The cover letter for the application says, in bold print: “The Rules in California are Changing” and continues to talk about new Rule 3-410, effective January 1, 2010, to the effect that lawyers must disclose to clients in writing that they do not have E & O insurance coverage. The obvious ploy here is to scare lawyers into buying malpractice insurance.
How much more premium money will carriers earn from this new rule? And how much client defections will 20% of the California Bar suffer as a result of the inadequate measure recently adopted by the California Board of Governors and approved by the State Supreme Court? I suspect enough to have made the insurance industry’s efforts worth their while.
As though the bad economy hasn’t hurt the sole and small firm practitioners enough this year, the Bar throws more oil on the fire by either causing this group’s expenses to increase (to the obvious delight of the insurance industry) or its revenue to decrease. Either way makes this generally economically marginal group’s life more precarious …