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We are proud to announce that AHERN is featured in Attorney at Law Magazine’s Vendor Spotlight this month!

Please click here to read the article, “AHERN Insurance Brokerage: Unique Expertise.”

Gayle has been a business litigator for decades.  She recognizes litigation was not the best fit for her personality, but she did it well and was a fine lawyer.  It provided a solid income for her family, which she had cherished – even though her work pulled her away and played a role in her divorce.

The conflicting demands of trying to be the best mother and the best litigator took its toll on Gayle.  Recently, whenever the phone rang, or an email or text arrived, she started feeling dread: more work to be done or maybe a criticism of her work.  She felt less able to keep up, more ineffective, and less productive.  She felt more cynical, isolated, forgetful, and less able to concentrate.  Every problem – at work or home – felt serious, even if it was not.  She felt exhausted constantly and had trouble sleeping.  She dreaded going to work, and never felt recovered after a weekend or a rare vacation.  While she had always felt like a successful, accomplished person, she had begun to feel she was failing, professionally and personally.

Most frighteningly for her, the anxiety attacks she first experienced in law school had returned with increasing frequency and severity – so terrifying that thoughts of suicide had even crossed her mind.

In addition to Gayle’s symptoms of burnout, other symptoms include: ongoing stress and crises; feelings of isolation and helplessness; irritability; excessive feelings of responsibility, inadequacy, and self-doubt; obsessive thoughts; guilt about missed personal activities; inability to balance heavy work and family responsibilities; reluctance to say no; sweating, heart palpitations, and feelings of panic; and self-medicating with alcohol and other substances.

The Cost

While Gayle felt alone in her despair, she was not.  As in other high stress fields, burnout is a serious problem in the legal profession, not only in terms of individual lawyers’ misery, but in the resulting harm to their firms and, sometimes, clients.

For lawyers, untreated burnout can lead to – or go hand in hand with – physical and emotional problems like depression, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse.  Compared to other professions, lawyers suffer very high rates of depression, substance abuse, and suicide.

Burnout also creates real problems for law firms.  Lawyers suffering burnout are unhappy, less engaged, less productive, and at greater risk for making errors that could result in malpractice claims or Bar complaints.  Firms also risk losing good lawyers too soon, costing substantial amounts to hire, train, and make new lawyers part of the team.

The Causes

Lawyers’ inherent personality traits, along with the adversarial, high pressure nature of the work, create a perfect incubator for burnout.  Lawyers tend to be perfectionists, setting impossible to meet standards for themselves and the sense that nothing is ever good enough.  Lawyers are also trained to be on the constant lookout for problems and to be responsible for taking care of clients.  This inherent pessimism over what might go wrong creates a sense that problems are everywhere, the true urgency of which becomes exaggerated.  Lawyers also often fail to seek out help when needed, not wanting to appear weak.  They also face constant deadlines set by the courts, other parties, and clients, over which they have very little control.

Law firms, in turn, rarely foster an atmosphere where a lawyer experiencing burnout would feel comfortable exposing – and getting help for – what could be perceived as weakness.  Law firms are competitive places, with increasing demands for greater productivity at lower cost, and with limited, highly competitive opportunities for advancement.  New technologies also add pressure on lawyers, who feel constantly tethered to their work and client demands.

Prevention and Treatment

Lawyers and their firms can work together to promote a healthier approach for lawyers and, in turn, greater success for firms.  Individual lawyers (and firms, through wellness programs and thoughtful institutional changes to discourage a workaholic culture) should strive for: healthy diet; sufficient sleep; meditation; regular exercise, including yoga and walking; learning to say no, to set realistic work boundaries, and to protect time fully away from the demands of work, including regular vacations; dropping difficult clients; learning to express one’s feelings and concerns to someone who listens and cares; pursuing personal interests that bring satisfaction; and better protecting a healthy work/life balance generally.  In serious cases, lawyers can ask to take a leave of absence, change jobs, or even change careers.

Arizona lawyers have very helpful resources available through the State Bar’s Member Assistance Program, including its Peer Support Network, Support Groups, and Crisis Hotline.

Burnout is a serious occupational hazard for lawyers.  But, with the help of their firms, lawyers can strive to avoid feeling trapped and hopeless by taking the right steps to regain a healthy, balanced life.

(Article originally published in Attorney at Law Magazine – Phoenix Edition, Volume 11, Number 5).

*No portion of this article is intended to constitute legal advice. Be sure to perform independent research and analysis. Any views expressed are those of the author only.

By Daniel W. Hager | Corporate Counsel, AHERN Insurance Brokerage

Daniel W. Hager is Corporate Counsel to AHERN Insurance Brokerage and has spent his career practicing in the fields of lawyers’ professional liability, risk management, and legal ethics.

Missing litigation and other deadlines remains one of the leading causes of claims against law firms.  Such claims become malpractice cases in which often the only disputed issues are causation and the amount of damages, since breach of the standard of care will likely be established per se by missing the deadline.  A strong, effective calendaring system is thus one of the single most essential tools for reducing the risk and expense of claims (and their impact on insurance rates).

An important component of any effective calendar system is using a designated Docketing Clerk to oversee and run this critical component of the firm’s risk management efforts.

The benefits of using a Docketing Clerk are many:

  • It helps centralize the system, providing more consistent, regular, and accurate calendaring, as well as consistency in providing regular ticklers/reminders;
  • It identifies the person responsible for the overall system, including tracking its correct use by everyone at the firm, that all critical calendaring data is being regularly entered and backed up, and that the latest version of the firm’s calendaring software is in use;
  • It provides an in-house expert in calendar issues and calendaring software, someone who gets regular training in the field to keep abreast of litigation and other deadlines, calendaring best practices, and calendaring technology;
  • It provides all attorneys and staff with a go-to person for any calendar-related questions;
  • It frees up time of attorneys and staff that would otherwise be spent in calendaring functions for which the Docketing Clerk is made responsible;
  • It provides the firm with a person to provide regular training to attorneys and staff on calendaring generally, on the firm’s own calendar policies and procedures, and someone who can provide regular recommendations for improving the firm’s system;
  • It is a positive risk management factor to E&O carriers evaluating the firm for malpractice coverage. Since missed deadlines so often lead to claims, carriers generally want to know details of a firm’s calendaring system. Using a Docketing Clerk to oversee and run the system is a positive indicator that the firm is serious about having the most effective system possible to reduce its risk of claims.  Strong risk management policies and procedures reduce the incidence of claims and, thus, have a positive effect on premiums.

A firm’s calendar system is critically important to reducing the risk of claims.  It is an extremely detail-oriented system, involving a large number of matters and every lawyer and many staff members.  Dates and deadlines are constantly changing.  It is inherently susceptible to errors that can morph into potentially serious claims.  Having a designated, trained Docketing Clerk can greatly strengthen the firm’s system by centralizing responsibility and creating an in-house expert and resource, thereby reducing exposure for the firm.

By Daniel W. Hager | Corporate Counsel | Ahern Insurance Brokerage

A recognized expert in lawyers’ malpractice prevention and legal ethics, Daniel has provided consultations and risk management services to law firms for more than 20 years. Before joining AHERN, Dan was a partner at AV-rated Roeca Haas Hager LLP, where he defended lawyers against malpractice and other claims for more than 25 years.

Screening proposed lateral attorneys for conflicts, claims, and other issues is critical for avoiding disqualifying conflicts of interest, potential insurance coverage issues, and for general due diligence in hiring.

The following is a checklist of recommended actions to take, as well as forms that can be used, in that process.

CHECKLIST

  • Have the candidate identify (without disclosing client confidences) all matters in which he/she had substantial involvement or gained confidential information during his or her career, or for at least the past five calendar years, including, the party represented, all affiliated and related parties, all adverse parties, and any other persons interested in the matter.
  • If any actual or potential conflicts of interest are identified, determine what actions are necessary to minimize or resolve such conflicts, including obtaining written waivers from current or past clients of the firm, taking precautions to ethically screen the lateral attorney – the moment employment commences – from any contact with any matters in which a conflict has been identified, or revoking the candidate’s offer of employment if conflicts cannot be resolved.
  • Ask the candidate’s current and previous law firm employers to send letters to their clients for whom the candidate has rendered significant services, and whose former representation by the candidate may create conflicts with the firm’s clients, requesting waivers of any actual or potential conflicts and providing their informed written consent to continuing representation by the firm.
  • Give the candidate a current list of the firm’s clients (excluding any client whose identity itself must remain confidential) to identify any client in which the candidate has an economic or business interest, including any investment or other ownership, possessory, security, or other financial interest.
  • Have the candidate complete a Lateral Attorney Questionnaire (link to download example copy is below), and resolve all issues raised by the questionnaire before the employment commences.
  • Have the candidate provide a list of all errors and omission insurance he/she has been covered by throughout his/her legal career (if more than 10 years, the last 10 years only), including insurer, policy number, policy period, limits, and whether it was a claim made or occurrence policy.
  • Have the candidate provide a list of all claims and occurrences which might reasonably be believed to pose a risk of a claim, including occurrences reported to an insurer in which the attorney has been involved in any way, or for which the attorney may be liable. The status of each such claim or occurrence and the name, address, and telephone number of who to contact to keep informed on the status of the case should also be provided.
  • Before resignation from current firm becomes effective, have the candidate report to his/her prior firm’s insurer all claims he/she knows of and all circumstances which are reasonably believed might give rise to a future claim, and provide a copy of that report to your firm (appropriately redacted to preserve confidences).
  • Request that the candidate purchase “tail coverage” or an extended reporting endorsement and to provide proof to your firm he/she has done so.
  • Inform the candidate in writing that your firm’s malpractice insurance will not provide him/her with any insurance protection, and that your firm will not defend or indemnify for any claim asserted after employment with the firm but arising from acts or omissions before employment commenced.
  • Investigate the candidate’s resume by verifying selected employment positions, bar memberships, and educational degrees.

Click here to download this article including example copies of the Cover Memo, Conflict of Interest Report and Lateral Attorney Questionnaire referenced in the article.

By Daniel W. Hager | Corporate Counsel | Ahern Insurance Brokerage

* No portion of this article is intended to constitute legal advice. Be sure to perform independent research and analysis.

At some point all lawyers ask themselves, “Why did I accept that client in the first place?” Effectively screening prospective clients for red flags is perhaps the single most important tool for avoiding later fee disputes, malpractice claims, and ethics complaints. Making the following considerations part of evaluating new clients and matters will greatly reduce your risk, and lead to a more satisfying, less aggravating practice.

Ethical Evaluation
Consider the following for new matters: Have all appropriate entities/ individuals been checked for conflicts? Did the conflicts report disclose any actual or potential conflicts? Is proposed joint representation possible with informed written consent? Might the representation require taking positions on issues that are contrary to the positions of other clients?

Compatibility With Practice And Resources
Ask yourself: Is this matter within your present areas of expertise? If not, can you educate yourself promptly enough to handle it competently? Will the matter require time or special logistical or technical capabilities you presently lack?

Professional Desirability
Consider whether the following factors are positive, negative, or neutral in deciding whether to accept the prospective client: relationship and experience with prior and current attorneys (changing lawyers on this matter; suits against lawyers; references checked); relationship with other professionals (references checked); personality (motivation for using your services; reasonableness of expectations; degree of patience; insistence on controlling details of the representation); background and behavior (alcohol or drug abuse; excessive gambling; history of personal legal problems); business background (employment history; experience in the business involved or similar businesses); whether there will be any relationship other than that of attorney-client (officer/director/partner in the client’s organization; business transaction with or investing in the client; helping the client find funding sources or third parties to do business with); risk of claims against you by third parties (claimed third party beneficiaries; government entities like the SEC/FDIC; risk of sanctions or malicious prosecution claims); and your gut reaction (comfortable with the prospective client; willingness to follow advice).

Financial Review
Consider: the range of fees and costs you expect the matter to generate; ability to pay those fees and costs; ability to post an adequate retainer/deposit; business reputation and financial status (from credit report, Best’s Reports, Dunn & Bradstreet, Standard & Poor’s); and outstanding judgments or bankruptcies. A simple Google search may provide a wealth of relevant information.

For existing clients, consider whether outstanding bills have been written off and the client’s history of accounts receivable.

Other financial considerations include: the fee arrangement (hourly/rates, contingency, fixed fee); need for retainer/ deposit (amount, one time, replenishing); client’s reaction to proposed payment arrangement; in contingency cases estimate the amount of likely recovery, the time to conclude the matter, and the likelihood of obtaining no monetary recovery); and whether the matter appears to be a one-time representation or may develop into an on-going relationship.

Regularly considering these factors (and requiring other lawyers in your firm to do the same) will reduce the risk of taking on clients who are the most likely to trigger fee disputes, malpractice claims, and ethics complaints. When in doubt, trust your gut reaction; if a prospective client gives you a bad feeling, err on the side caution by tactfully declining the case.

– By Daniel W. Hager, Corporate Counsel, AHERN Insurance Brokerage

To download a copy of this AHERN Update, please click here.

 

Records retention presents important issues of ethics (safeguarding client property, maintaining confidentiality and loyalty), risk management (avoiding ethical violations and claims), and cost control.

A new article written by our Corporate Counsel, Daniel Hager, outlines steps that your firm can take to implement an effective records retention policy that will help your firm meet its ethical obligations, reduce risk, and lessen costs.

California Firms: Click here to download this article.
Arizona Firms: Click here to download this article.
Firms not in CA/AZ: Click here to download this article.

Klinedinst PC to Offer Initial Complimentary Legal Ethics Consultations

AHERN Insurance Brokerage is an industry leader in providing customized insurance solutions for law firms. On top of supplying extraordinary services to its clients, AHERN continuously looks for additional opportunities to add value to its clients’ practices.

AHERN has arranged for Klinedinst PC – a leader in the area of ethics, risk management, and the law of lawyering – to provide up to 30 minutes of free legal ethics consultation to its attorney and law firm clients in California, following a conflict of interest check. Klinedinst PC has offices in San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Seattle.

The attorneys at Klinedinst have decades of experience in advising a wide range of practitioners, from solo and small firms to the largest law firms in the world. The members of the firm’s Legal Ethics and Law Firm Risk Management Team have a deep understanding of the challenges facing the profession and provide succinct, to-the-point guidance on these professional standards. Heather L. Rosing, Chair of the Team, serves as a legal adviser to the Rules Revision Commission of the State Bar of California, which is assisting in rewriting the Rules of Professional Conduct. Dave Majchrzak, Senior Counsel with the firm, is the Vice Chair of the San Diego County Bar Association’s Legal Ethics Committee, and formerly served on the State Bar’s Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct.

No one understands better that ethics issues often arise on a moment’s notice and need to be dealt with promptly. Klinedinst has developed a reputation for its quick response to its professional clients.

AHERN is very excited to offer this valuable resource to its attorney and law firm clients in California.

Click here for more details about this new value-added offering.

Businesses both large and small need to be proactive in order to protect against growing cyber threats. As larger companies take steps to secure their systems, smaller, less secure businesses are becoming increasingly attractive targets for cyber criminals.

We have put together a comprehensive planning guide designed to help employers protect their business, information and customers from cyber threats. We hope you will find this guide useful, as it provides excellent advice on steps your firm can take to help mitigate one of the fastest and most frequent exposures we see come across our desks and those of our underwriting partners.

Click here to download your FREE Cybersecurity Planning Guide…

Identifying Risky Clients at the Outset

Please join DRI and LawyerGuard® for a complimentary Webinar on November 15th, 2017 that will touch on many different aspects of identifying risky clients, such as different types of risky clients, red flags for identifying risky clients, and types of risky cases. This presentation will also discuss ways to protect the firm through use of various client communication letters.

Who Should Attend

  • Law firms, particularly the individual(s) responsible for risk management within the firm

What You Will Learn

  • How to identify the troublesome client or case
  • How troublesome clients increase your firm’s risk to a malpractice claim
  • What are the red flags of a dishonest client
  • How can client communications letters protect the firm

Webinar seats are limited. Register now!

DATE: Wednesday, November 15, 2017
TIME: 1:00 PM –
 2:00 PM Central

 

Presenters:

Kevin J. Sullivan is the program manager for the LawyerGuard Insurance Program, which provides lawyers’ professional liability insurance to law firms on a nationwide basis. He has over 30 years of professional liability underwriting /management experience, focusing on lawyers’ professional liability since 1995.

 

Thomas P. Sukowicz is a partner at Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP, working out of its Ft. Lauderdale, Chicago, and New York City offices. Tom has focused his practice for several years on advising attorneys on ethics and risk management issues and defending lawyers in professional disciplinary proceedings. He previously spent many years as a staff attorney at the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission, where he investigated and prosecuted attorneys for professional misconduct.