The legal industry is filled with potential traps and pitfalls for the lawyers who navigate it. Although there are many types of lawyers who rarely interact with their clients and may never even enter a courtroom for the purposes of participating in a trial, many thousands of American lawyers routinely engage in high-stakes legal activities. Whether these lawyers must spearhead a case against a suspected mafia leader or defend an individual who has been arrested on child-molestation charges, their areas of practice leave them open to charges of malpractice.
Since one misfiled document or missed deadline can affect the outcome of a trial, it's important that these lawyers remain alert and prepared at all times. Many clients who claim to have been wrongfully convicted of the crimes for which they were accused won't hesitate to turn around and sue the lawyer who represented them for malpractice. To protect against the financial, professional and legal ramifications of these lawsuits, most lawyers choose to carry malpractice insurance. This type of insurance is sometimes known as "professional liability" insurance.
Some lawyers opt out of the expensive malpractice insurance market. Most of these professionals work in "back-office" sub-fields and rarely serve as counsel on high-stakes criminal cases or tort cases with large sums of money hanging in the balance. In addition, most lawyers who turn down malpractice coverage work for small firms and maintain close relationships with their regular clients. As such, they may determine that they're relatively unlikely to face a malpractice suit in their current line of work.
This may be an imprudent course of action. Like medical malpractice, legal malpractice insurance costs vary widely between sub-fields. Just as certain surgeons must pay many thousands of dollars per year in order to carry adequate insurance against frequent and costly malpractice claims, certain trial and tort lawyers must live with the constant threat of malpractice lawsuits.
By contrast, many small-time family doctors rarely perform high-risk procedures or make life-changing diagnoses with serious margins for error. These small-time doctors are analogous to the back-room lawyers who rarely engage in risky legal behavior. For both sub-classes, malpractice costs may be surprisingly affordable. For instance, a lawyer who works at a small firm and never sets foot in a courtroom might have to pay between $1,000 and $3,000 per year for malpractice insurance. While this is not a negligible cost, it's far lower than the $5,000 to $15,000 that high-powered lawyers may have to pay each year.