Over a thirty year legal career, the average lawyer is sued for malpractice three times. Of the 40,000 claims for legal malpractice every year, 12,000 result in some recovery of money damages. Between the last two studies performed by the ABA, there has been a 72% increase in the size of payments to settle legal malpractice claims (greater than $2,000,000).
In every study conducted by the ABA over the last thirty years, plaintiff personal injury attorneys top the list of most frequently sued lawyers. Of the 40,000 claims for malpractice, almost 9,000 of these claims were personal injury- plaintiff claims. This means that just over one in every five legal malpractice claims are against a personal injury attorney. Plaintiff attorneys are more than 539% likely to be sued than an average specialty and more than 736% more likely than personal injury defense attorneys.
Over 70% of all malpractice claims are against firms that consist of fewer than five attorneys. Moreover, 37% of all these claims are against solo practitioners.Malpractice claims for administrative errors are much higher. Of all the malpractice claims for litigators, 47% were for a failure to timely file complaints. This particular defect is an easy fix for most offices.
Of the 1,410,000 lawyers in the United States about 1,040,000 of those are in private practice. There are roughly 117,600 complaints to bar associations each year. That means that there is an over 10% chance of having a complaint filed against an attorney every year. Of these complaints over 5,700 attorneys are publicly or privately sanctioned every year. Over 15% of attorneys are sanctioned at least once over a 30 year career.
The most common alleged error by claimants is failure to know or properly apply the law at 11.51% of all claims. Of all the claims, 5.31% were for failure to obtain consent or inform client of legal procedures, and 3.22% were for failure to follow client instructions. The situation is direr considering that fewer claims are being abandoned or resulting in no payment. The claims that were abandoned or received zero payment dropped by 10% from 2003 to 2007. Roughly 8% of all malpractice claims have stemmed from settlement or negotiation activities.
Many of these malpractice issues may be avoided. The most common claim, not filing on time, is fortunately an easy fix. Attorneys should always use a proven calendaring system or a competent administrative team to avoid such errors. As settlement claims are a highly vulnerable area for malpractice liability, attorneys should seek the counsel of a qualified settlement planner to educate clients on all the relevant tax, government entitlement, and funding issues of a settlement. Taking these steps, an attorney will avoid liability for the many of the most frequent malpractice issues entirely.
 Haskins, Paul and Kathleen Marie Evans, Profile of Legal Malpractice Claims, American Bar Association c. Sep. 2008, p. 1
 See Id. at 12.
 Haskins, p. 1.
 Haskins, p. 1.
 See Haskins, p. 4, Table 1.
 1 Mallen, Ronald E. and Jeffrey M. Smith, Legal Malpractice 38 (2009 Ed.).
 Id. at 401.
 Survey on Lawyer Discipline Systems, 2007. ABA Center for Professional Responsibility.
 Haskins, Paul and Kathleen Marie Evans, Profile of Legal Malpractice Claims, American Bar Association c. Sep. 2008, p. 10.
 Id. at 9.
 Id. at 19.