by Peary Perry
asked about what this column is about, I usually respond with Ö Ďoh,
itís a humor columnÖkind of satireÖí something along that line. I
was thinking that this week I could write a light piece about something
humorous, but no, not going to happen this week.
In Texas, when you hire an attorney to do some work for you, Iíll
bet you didnít know that attorneys are not required to carry malpractice
insurance for their practices. At least half of those practicing in
Texas do not carry the coverage. Now, we all know that doctors carry
malpractice in case they cut off the wrong leg or do something equally
tragic to cause any of us injury. I donít know that I would do business
with a doctor who wasnít insured. Iím not certain if insurance is
required for doctors, but you certainly hear more about them than
you do attorneys. Read on a little further.
Anyway, here in the great old Lone Star state, if an attorney screws
up your case, and has no insurance, the most you can hope for is a
settlement from something called the Texas Bar Client Security Fund
which allows for the payment of a maximum of $30,000 for any mistakes
made by the attorney on your behalf. Last year, the fund settled 74
cases for an average of $5,900 a case.
The story I read goes on to tell about a guy whose attorney failed
to file his patent agreements on time. The guy sued and won a 10 million
dollar judgment, but the attorney claims he has no assetsÖ so about
the only way any recovery can be made is through this fund. Thirty
grand isnít much when compared to the ten million is it?
There isnít any hard and fast rule requiring practicing attorneys
to make any contributions to the fund on an annual basis. Currently
the amount paid out equals to $5.66 for each practicing lawyer in
Texas. The fund pays out benefits from the interest it generates from
an endowment of about 3 million dollars. If they paid out $437,000
last year, that must mean there are over 70,000 attorneys in Texas.
Way too many if you ask me.
It gets worseÖin order to even file for any type of claim under the
rules of the fund; the injured party must first file a grievance with
the state bar. A hearing on this matter might take anywhere from a
year to two years to be heard. Then, if the attorney gets reprimanded,
a claim for damages can be filed. The system must find that the lawyer
violated some rules of professional conduct. Remember a maximum of
$30,000 is all that could be paid in any event.
The Texas Supreme Court authorized a committee to look at whether
or not attorneys should be forced to disclose if they had malpractice
insurance or not. Last month, by a vote of 6 to 5, they voted that
notice should not be required. Texas is only one of three states to
vote against such a measure. Twenty three states require disclosure.
So, what does all of this mean? Well, itís simple. Itís a little like
going to Las Vegas, you pays your money and you takes your chances.
Not much comfort in the system is there? Doesnít exactly warm your
Here we have another clear cut case of self dealing. The attorneys
make the laws as well as enforce the laws as well as interpret the
laws. Donít think for a minute itís going to change because it isnít.
You and me are going to be in the dark and forced to stumble through
life like blind mice in a maze. The attorneys make the rules for us
to follow, but not for them. All of us in business have to carry insurance
on our various enterprises, but the people we should be able to trust
to help us with legal guidance do not have to follow this rule. What
a crock, if you ask me.
Iím certain there are plenty of attorneys out there who do look after
the best interests of their clients and who do carry liability insurance
in case someone in their firm makes a costly mistake.
You would think it would be those who are abiding by the rules, who
would be the ones leading the charge to require all of their colleagues
to do the same, wouldnít you? One bad apple spoils the barrel.
Or in this case, should I say half the bad apples spoil the entire
Letters From North America
June 26, 2008 column
Syndicated weekly in 80 newspapers
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