Byte of Prevention Blog

by Lawyers Mutual |

Georgia Lawyer Turns Ordinary Malpractice Claim into Disbarment

A recent ABA Journal article offers a cautionary tale for lawyers who commit malpractice. The article describes the case of a Georgia lawyer who was disbarred after submitting falsified documents in her disciplinary case. The lawyer had been hired to represent a personal injury client who had been injured in an auto accident. The lawyer failed to file a complaint within the statute of limitations. After the client discovered the lawyer’s error, he filed a malpractice claim and disciplinary complaint.

In the disciplinary proceeding and the malpractice case, the lawyer submitted fake emails which made it appear that the client had fired the lawyer before the statute of limitations expired. The lawyer later admitted that she fabricated the emails. According to the Georgia Supreme Court decision, the lawyer testified that she had become overwhelmed by her workload and did not know how to reduce her work responsibilities or reach out for help. 

In looking at the mitigating and aggravating factors, the Court highlighted the testimony from the client indicating that he had attempted to call the lawyer without success over 65 times. He also tried to get a response from the lawyer through emails and texts, all to no avail. 

In reaching its decision to disbar the lawyer, the Court noted the egregiousness of submitting fabricated evidence in connection with disciplinary proceedings. The Court was not swayed by the mitigating factor that the attorney was overwhelmed by her workload and had been diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder. 

This is an unfortunate situation that did not have to happen. The mistake by the lawyer in this case is a common one. It was nothing more than ordinary negligence. It is the kind of error that malpractice insurance is intended to cover. The lawyer should have simply admitted her error and dealt with the claim. 

This is not the first time that I have seen this scenario play out. A lawyer commits a simple error but panics and tries to cover it up. They lie to their clients or fabricate documents. I’m sure there are instances where a lawyer has gotten away with the cover-up. However, more often than not, the cover-up is discovered. And when it is, the consequences for the lawyer are dramatic. 

The Georgia lawyer’s case offers multiple lessons:

  1. When you make a mistake that causes harm to your client, notify your malpractice carrier immediately. This can help in two ways. First, by speaking with your carrier, you are less likely to make a poor choice in the face of panic. Second, your carrier can help you craft a disclosure to the client that complies with the State Bar rules.
  2. When you have difficult news to deliver to a client, do not procrastinate and do not avoid your client. Avoidance and refusal to communicate with a client can result in disciplinary action. 
  3. Never, and I mean never, assume that you can get away with submitting falsified or fabricated evidence to a tribunal. Assume that you will get caught and will likely lose your law license. 
  4. If you are struggling with your workload or feeling overwhelmed, reach out for help. The North Carolina Lawyers Assistance Program is a great resource for lawyers struggling with fatigue and overwhelm. Or consider talking with a trusted colleague or mentor about ways to deal with your situation. Whatever you do, don’t wait until it’s too late and balls are being dropped. And know that there is no shame in asking for help. Nobody gets through this life on their own. 


About the Author

Lawyers Mutual

Lawyers Mutual, founded in 1977, is the first lawyers mutual insurance company in the country and has provided continuous professional liability coverage to North Carolina lawyers for 40 years. Its reputation for leadership, professionalism and commitment to its attorneys sets the standard for other legal malpractice insurance providers. For more information, call 800.662.8843, follow us on Twitter @LawyersMutualNC, connect on our LinkedIn page, like us on Facebook

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