A Smile Goes a Long Way With Clients

Betty Grable's Legs vs. Your Smile...

I remember hearing years ago that Betty Grable's legs were insured for one million bucks. Wow! That's a lot, especially back then. But did you know your smile could be worth $750,000, or more? It's true.

A small firm made one heck of a big goof and compounded it by not acting quickly. The firm's best client was involved in a multi-million dollar litigation. Right smack in the middle of it all the lead lawyer made a big mistake in the case, failing to include some of the damages in documents filed with the court. The lawyer was sure he could correct the error on appeal, but in the end could not. The court even made it clear to him and his client that he had goofed. In the midst of it all the firm's professional liability policy renewed and they decided to go with another insurance carrier. That's OK, but they failed to report the claim when they first realized the mistake had been made. (Remember we said they were *sure* they could fix the error?)

They thought they had a longer time to report the claim after the termination of that policy than they actually did and ended up missing that date. Can you guess what happens now?

Well, of course the "old" company refused the claim for late reporting. The new company refused the claim on the basis that it was known before the inception of the new policy! The firm had clear liability for the claim and had fallen "into the gap" between old and new policies.
Sounds like they are doomed, huh?...read on.

Remember that smile thing? Well, the lead lawyer surprised everyone with two things. First, he smiled all the time. A very friendly guy in every way. Second, he seemed convinced, despite the facts, that the firm would never be sued. Everyone around him kept reiterating the situation and espousing gloom. He just kept smiling through several meetings, convinced the firm had nothing to worry about. Everyone at the firm thought the only reason that the client would not sue was if they were family or very close friends. The lawyer finally explained that the client was neither family nor old friend. It was simply that he had treated them as friends, kept their interests at heart as best he could, was up front with them about the entire case, including his errors and always kept smiling at them. He *knew* them. He was right! It's been over ten years and this very sophisticated client has never sued, or changed attorneys.

Can you stave off every malpractice action by smiling? No indeed. Some clients may even be suspicious if you smile too much. But this situation underscores one of the fundamental issues in any malpractice action: with rare exception, the malpractice suit starts and ends with a disgruntled client. Of course, not making errors or omissions is your first line of defense. But like my rocket scientist cousin always says, "redundancy is the hallmark of good engineering."

Nobody's perfect. When you make that inevitable goof you are much better off with a client who likes you. Make a habit of treating all your clients like you are going to have to call them tomorrow and tell them you goofed, then just keep smiling!


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