Networking is, of course, an essential factor for all lawyers to develop a successful practice. It is especially important for lawyers with solo and small firm practices, many of whom practice in rural areas.
Indeed, one of the most valuable benefits of belonging to the State Bar of Wisconsin Solo/Small Firm & General Practice Section (SSFGP) is immediate access to its elist that includes hundreds of other similarly situated attorneys with different areas of expertise. Having a group of “go to” colleagues in various practice areas can make a world of difference in competently representing your clients.
So, why bother including your malpractice carrier’s claims attorney?
Having a good relationship with your carrier’s claims attorney can be helpful in many ways, including expansion of your access to other attorneys, identifying common pitfalls in the world of legal malpractice, and improving the chances of successful claim prevention and resolution.
As a claims attorney for Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company (WILMIC), I have a unique (OK, biased) perspective.
WILMIC was created by Wisconsin lawyers as a provider of professional liability insurance for Wisconsin lawyers. WILMIC’s business requires contact with other Wisconsin lawyers.
Seventy percent of WILMIC’s insured attorneys are solo/small firm practitioners. As such, WILMIC is a natural extension of the SSFGP, and we walk and talk in many of the same circles.
The focus of our professional conversations is centered on professional liability, but the topics vary widely, and are as numerous as our insured lawyers’ areas of practice. I don’t hesitate to share successful ideas and best practices with our insureds when they call, regardless of the topic.
Because WILMIC’s network is 30-plus years in the making, if we don’t have an answer, chances are that we know someone who does. Certainly, other carriers will have similar experiences and information to share with their insured attorneys.
In addition to expanding your network, WILMIC’s Claims Department has heard from lawyers in all parts of the state – rural, urban, and in between – who report a wide array of claims.
More About Claims Attorneys
Claims attorneys also work with some very effective defense attorneys to handle those claims. This means that claims attorneys benefit from the knowledge of litigators who have helped other lawyers facing difficult situations – maybe the same challenge you are facing.
Most claims attorneys are also very engaged in risk management activities, advising lawyers of risks, trends and general pitfalls to avoid malpractice mistakes. They can deliver real-life examples of practical, use-it-now information.
Finally, if a claim arises, your focus needs to be on getting back to business as usual. Establishing a relationship with your claims attorney and bringing him/her into the claims process sooner than later will allow smooth and effective handling of the claim.
Perhaps one of the questions most often asked of claims attorneys is how to communicate with the client when a mistake is made. A claims attorney can offer talking points and tips to assist with those difficult conversations.
Or, the claims attorney may conclude it is necessary to retain repair or defense counsel. Even if you disagree, some policies may not cover your claim if you take certain actions without consulting with your insurer in an attempt to “fix it yourself.”
Contacting your claims attorney is simply an effective way to avoid potentially costly mistakes regarding repair/defense, avoiding denial of coverage, and other concerns. And, if your claims attorney is already part of your network, any discomfort associated with reporting a claim will most likely be diminished.
Expand Your Own Network
Networking is not easy for everybody, and neither is talking to your malpractice carrier’s claims attorney when you have to report a claim. But the very nature of your claims attorney’s job puts that person in touch with others who may be able to help you with a myriad issues.
As you are looking for ways to improve your own network in the coming year, don’t overlook the less obvious choice.