The Office of the Bar Counsel reports to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. Since 1974, The Board of Bard Overseers hears attorney discipline cases prosecuted by the Office of the Bar Counsel. The Bar Counsel’s findings in their report to the SJC for 2016, if reviewed carefully, provides important insight for legal malpractice attorneys, and the victims of legal malpractice, in Massachusetts.
Before we discuss some of the wrongs of counsel in Massachusetts, we should put things in context. There are approximately 59,472 lawyers registered in Massachusetts plus another 11,719 lawyers who are “inactive”. While their report focuses on some of the disciplinary actions, and what would be considered legal negligence or legal malpractice, the overwhelming vast majority of the aforementioned 70,000 lawyers are fine advocates for their clients and faithful public servants, keeping an amazing judicial system working.
How Many Client Complaints Against Massachusetts Attorneys In 2016?
In 2016 there were than 3,799 inquires or informal complaints from clients regarding their Massachusetts attorneys, 89% of which were in telephone calls, with the remainder in written form. The Bar Counsel Attorney and Consumer Assistance Program’s amazing staff was able to resolve 86% of those 3,799 inquiries without referral to Bar Counsel for investigation. Further, 99% of the inquiries were resolved within 45 days.
According to the study, a “typical” result was either the return of the client’s file, the return of the client’s retainer (fee), or communicating an update on the case to the client.
What Areas of Law Resulting in Client Complaints Against Attorneys?
The breakdown is as follows:
Domestic Relations: 16%
Civil Litigation: 13%
Trusts and Estates: 11%
Personal Injury: 7%
Real Estate: 7%
Legal Fees: 6%
What Cases Were Investigated?
The cases actually filed in 2016 involved 652 attorneys (764 cases). (Again, of 70,000 licensed attorneys.) Of those attorneys, 587 had only one complaint historically; 41 had two complaints; 24 had three or more complaints.
We highlight some of the 764 cases for example (note, many complaints fall into multiple categories, so the several listed below is not conclusive and exceeds 100%):
232, or 30% – neglect or lack of diligence
219, or 29% – trust and estate violations
159, or 21% – failure to communicate with client
110, or 14% – fee violations
110, or 14% – failure to provide competent representation
66, or 9% – failure to properly withdraw, failure to return client files
46, or 6% – conflicts of interest
Malpractice Insurance and Discipline in Massachusetts
Of the disciplined lawyers in 2016, only 50% had legal malpractice insurance. Note this is not the number of complaints, but actual discipline. 77% of the lawyers disciplined were “solo” practitioners and 30% had prior disciplines.
What practical importance is it that your attorney has legal malpractice insurance in Massachusetts? It’s of significant importance. As malpractice attorneys, we often have to decline an otherwise valid case because of lack of insurance.
Burns & Jain Free Legal Massachusetts Malpractice Evaluation
Call us for a free evaluation of your Massachusetts legal malpractice claim. Attorney Burns has over 30 years experience; Attorney Jain is in court regularly fighting for our clients’ rights.