Among the many issues COVID-19 has raised for business professionals, increased risk is chief among them. And not just health risk, but legal risk.
Those who feel they have been harmed, either by the economy or the pandemic, might look to hold accountable those they perceive to have harmed them. If they believe there are deep pockets involved, the motivation to “be made whole” can intensify. This is a formula for a rise in claims, and attorneys are not immune.
In fact, the risks for attorneys and their firms are not insignificant.
As courts have closed, then reopened, and then closed again in some cases, courthouses all around the United States have seen docket backlogs grow, as well as filing deadlines delayed, extended or left untouched and, ultimately, missed. With the pandemic wreaking such havoc on the U.S. judicial system, even the most attentive attorneys have been exposed to error.
Meanwhile, countless lawyers and their staff are working remotely, outside of both the office and its measurably more secure technology environment. Sensitive data that might once have only existed on secure firm servers shielded by firewalls, virus protection and a tech-support team might now reside on stray laptops and mobile devices connected to far-less secure home wifi networks.
While these data security issues and filing errors are not new risks, they open attorneys to tremendous liability. We can expect claimants to examine these situations closely in the wake of, or in response to, the COVID-19 crisis.
Other areas where we expect to see a rise of risk includes labor and employment law, as well as wills, trusts and estates.
Where employment law is concerned, there are obvious questions and concerns involving workers returning to the workplace. Those deemed essential workers are likely at high risk of filing claims should they develop COVID-19 and decide the workplace is a factor in their infection. The same is true for attorneys and staff who shifted to remote work and either have or will soon return to the workplace environment. In all cases, workers with preexisting health conditions are of most concern for resulting potential legal exposure. Solo practitioners and firm managers should carefully review their liability insurance prior to mandating any return-to-work requirements now or in the future.
In addition, the potential rise of work in the wills, trusts and estate arena simply means there will be more opportunity for potential claims. More members of the public are thinking about putting their legal house in order given the health threat. Related risks involving family dynamics or the client making claims of poor or misrepresentation each pose threats to attorneys in this space as these practice areas experience a burst of abnormal activity.
Ensuring your professional liability insurance coverage is equal to the unusual environment COVID-19 has created has never been more important. Contacting your insurance representative to conduct an audit of your coverage and the rise of COVID-19 related risk to your practice is a prudent course of action to ensure you, your firm and your practice are best protected.