Archive for October, 2011

Deadly Errors

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

An interesting article in the Philadelphia Inquirer finds that nearly one third of the death penalty convictions in Pennsylvania have been reversed or sent back for new hearings as a result of attorney error.  In hopes of reversing this trend, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ordered hearings on the pay scale for court appointed attorneys in death penalty cases.  According to the article in Philadelphia, a lawyer who accepts a death-penalty case that goes to trial gets $2,000 for trial preparation.  After the first day of trial, the court-appointed lawyer gets a daily fee of $200 for less than three hours and $400 a day over three hours.

The numbers in this Inquirer review are similar to a 2000 Columbia University study which found a 28 percent reversal rate on Pennsylvania death penalty cases on direct appeal.  Interestingly, this was actually one of the lower numbers in the study, with other states having reversal rates as high as 67 percent and a national average of 41 percent.  The study also found what it described as “serious error” in 68 percent of death penalty cases nationwide.

Criminal cases make up a relatively small percentage of legal malpractice cases, but when a conviction is overturned because of attorney error, a legal malpractice action is likely to follow.  Malpractice avoidance requires care in all cases, and the lack of pay commiserate with the work required does not excuse attorney error.

Josh J.T. Byrne, Esquire

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More Quick Tips

Thursday, October 20th, 2011
  • Know what’s happening in your office
  • Don’t trust your clients
    • If a client comes in and tells you a property owner’s name is on the deed, do not ask your staff to notarize the document
    • If a client tells you about an investment scheme where he can double your money, do not tell all of your clients about it (and do not take a commission)

Josh J.T. Byrne, Esquire

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Top Types of Legal Malpractice Errors

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Here is a nice chart showing the top types of errors made by attorneys in Philadelphia (Thanks to Westport/SwissRe for the chart):

Top Types of Errors – 2006-11 (Philadelphia)

-Josh J.T. Byrne, Esquire

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Professional negligence that could cost a life

Monday, October 10th, 2011

Doctors regularly face the most severe consequence in malpractice situations.  A doctor’s malpractice can kill a patient.  For most lawyers, the consequences of legal malpractice are not so extreme.  For the most part, the only loss that can happen to a client as the result of legal malpractice is the loss of money or property.  There is one significant exception.  The United States Supreme Court recently heard arguments in a case where the failure of a large firm to simply answer its mail caused a death row appeal to be untimely filed.  Maples v. Thomas involves a situation where an Alabama court sent copies of a ruling in to the New York offices of the law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, they were sent back unopened and marked “Return to Sender.”  The two associates who had argued an appeal for Mr. Maples had left the firm before the decision was rendered, and did not inform the court of any change in representation.  A court clerk in Alabama filed the returned envelopes and did nothing more.  The appeal period passed with no appeal being filed.  The case appears to have sympathy from the Justices across the political spectrum.

The question before the Supreme Court is whether Mr. Maples should have been able to proceed with his appeal, but the matter before the Supreme Court would not have been necessary if the lawyers had communicated a change in representation.  Failure to communicate is one of the leading causes of legal malpractice actions.  Malpractice prevention requires communication with opposing parties, clients, and the court.

-Josh J.T. Byrne, Esquire (hat tip to BCB)

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