When Lawyers Screw Up

Improving Access to Justice for Legal Malpractice Victims

Herbert Kritzer and Neil Vidmar

Unhappy clients bring thousands of legal malpractice claims every year, against mega law firms and solo practitioners, for simple errors or egregious misconduct, and for losses than can reach $100 million or more. This in an industry, legal services, generating nearly $300 billion a year in revenue and touching every facet of American society. Yet, scant if any scholarly attention has been paid to the questions and consequences of lawyers’ professional liability. This book is the first to fully explore the mistakes lawyers sometimes make, the nature of these mistakes, the harm they do, and the significant disparities in outcomes for corporate and individual victims of lawyers’ errors.

A systematic, empirical study of legal malpractice, When Lawyers Screw Up employs both quantitative and qualitative methods to examine the frequency and nature of claims, the area of practice producing them, the amounts at stake, and the resolutions. The authors also use a range of data sources to study the frequency and outcomes of legal malpractice trials, whether bench or jury. Their comparison of legal malpractice cases involving the corporate and personal service sectors reveal the difficulties confronting claims coming from the personal sector—difficulties that often deny victims redress, even when they have suffered significant harm.

When Lawyers Screw Up helps us better understand how lawyers err and how, as a profession, we can provide better access to justice to those who lawyers harm.


“Kritzer and Vidmar’s fine book is a welcome antidote to the ‘scant attention’ that has traditionally been paid by empirical research to legal malpractice litigation. This work of scholarship will be useful to those who think and write about the subject of lawyer professional liability.”

St. Mary’s Journal on Legal Malpractice & Ethics
See all reviews...

When Lawyers Screw Up draws on a series of interviews to describe the practices of lawyers with expertise in handling legal malpractice claims, even as it notes how few such experts are available to prosecute these claims. In light of their findings, the authors suggest a range of reforms that would help victims of legal malpractice, particularly individuals and small businesses, in pursuing their claims.

About the Author

Herbert M. Kritzer is professor of law and Marvin J. Sonosky Chair of Law and Public Policy at the University of Minnesota School of Law. Neil Vidmar is professor emeritus at Duke University School of Law.