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 is the first comprehensive look at lawyer malpractice: what it is, why it happens, and what victims can do about it. Kritzer and Vidmar bring their unique combination of disciplinary expertise (political science, psychology, and law) to bear on a vital problem about which we previously had only fragmentary information. They analyze how insurance shapes claims and recoveries, the economics of litigation, why responses to legal and medical malpractice are so different, and how we could make remedies more accessible. This book will be essential reading for students of the legal profession—and for anyone who has been injured by lawyer negligence.”

—Richard L. Abel, Michael J. Connell Distinguished Professor of Law Emeritus and distinguished research professor, UCLA

“This is the book on legal malpractice that needed to be written. It is the first book to provide a thorough discussion of legal malpractice in America and its implications for the public. The authors provide a wealth of new information about legal malpractice claims, the lawyers and litigants in the process, and the role of malpractice insurance in compensating victims. It’s a must-read for anyone interested in the real story of legal malpractice.”

—Leslie C. Levin, Joel Barlow Professor of Law, University of Connecticut School of Law

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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.