I have heard from a number of very good lawyers in recent years who tell me that part of their practice has “dried up,” or at least slowed down considerably. Some lawyers have even branched out into areas of practice they have never considered before just to make up for lost revenues, especially during the current COVID-19 health emergency.
Taking almost any case that comes along, or practicing in unfamiliar areas of law, are dangerous business practices that you may ultimately come to regret, and caution is advised if you are venturing outside your areas of expertise.
The Perils of “Dabbling”
Passing up business is not easy, and, especially for newer attorneys, it’s tempting to take everything that comes in the door. For example, you may have seen a bankruptcy case as an opportunity to make some money, or expand the depth of your practice. But, are you really suited for that kind of work? Do you know enough about that area of law to serve your client(s) well? If litigation is required, are you prepared and trained as a litigator?
Over the years, a high number of malpractice claims have been directly related to so-called “dabbling.” According to WILMIC statistics, more than 60% of the malpractice claims against our insured lawyers involve attorneys who only practice in that area less than 20% of the time. Conversely, lawyers who practice almost exclusively in an area of law account for less than 7% of claims.
“Dabbling” in an unfamiliar practice area may bring you more trouble than it’s worth. It’s not that you shouldn’t take on new areas of practice, but make sure you can devote enough time to learn it. This may be the opportunity you need to learn and develop new expertise, but it’s advisable to use a mentor or to consult with a more experienced attorney in an unfamiliar area of the law.
My best advice is not to fear referring cases to another attorney if you do not have the required expertise. There are times when you simply have to turn away business – times when you just are not the right lawyer to handle this client’s matter.
Lawyers need to believe they can say ‘no’ and the phone will ring again.
Editor’s Note: This is the first in a two-part series dealing with the importance of case and client selection to minimizing your malpractice risk. Next Up: Being Selective – Even In Tough Times.