Hating lawyers is as American as grass stains on a kid’s blue jeans, but is it justified?
A recent Pew Research Center study reveals that just 18 percent of those polled believe that lawyers make a positive contribution to society. Having practiced myself for nearly 30 years, I know that most lawyers do good work, are reliable, trustworthy and honourable. We’re good people, and we work hard.
There are times, however, when “One Bad Apple” seems to spoil the whole barrel. Our office handles cases against negligent lawyers, many of whom maintain insurance in the event of their malpractice. When a lawyer gets sued for legal malpractice, his or her insurance company customarily selects and pays for counsel to mount a defense to the lawsuit. In this unique instance, both counsel and client are lawyers.
Several years ago we won a jury trial against a negligent lawyer whose insurance company ultimately disclaimed coverage on the grounds that the insured acted intentionally. Insurance, they argued, covers accidents, not intentional acts. Simply put, we proved our case and won the trial but had no source from which we could recover the judgment that the jury had awarded to us. It subsequently came to light that the defendant/lawyer had previously and repeatedly requested that his assigned counsel make an effort to settle the case and thereby avoid the possible personal liability that a jury verdict could impose. These pleas fell on deaf ears, however. The verdict that we ultimately achieved created personal liability for the defendant/lawyer who could ill afford to pay a judgment in excess of $1,000,000. We instituted a new lawsuit against the defendant/lawyer’s counsel under the theory that he did not properly represent the interests of his client, (the lawyer being sued), but rather acted in a manner that was beneficial only to the insurance company, (the entity that selected him and paid his bills throughout the lengthy litigation). Through this new lawsuit, we learned that assigned counsel was so optimistic of his success at trial that he actually (and secretly), urged the insurance company not to settle the case prior to a jury verdict—all in defiance of the wishes of his client, the defendant/lawyer. We ultimately settled this case against the assigned counsel for more than the underlying judgment that we obtained against the original defendant/lawyer.
It’s well settled that a servant can’t serve two masters. The obligation of a lawyer is to his or her client, not the insurance company, (even though the insurance company is solely responsible for paying counsel’s bills). Why is this precept important to you? Because should you get into a routine car accident, your insurance company will select and pay for a lawyer to defend your interests. You want to make sure that whoever is assigned as your counsel acts in your best interests, rather than in the best interests of your insurance company.