If the attorneys in your firm started to slack off on the job, what are the chances that you would notice before your firms’ clients did? Law firms are not immune to the phenomenon known as quiet quitting.
This intentional drop in work quality and productivity carries serious but indirect implications for professional liability insurance coverage, especially when it comes to malpractice. Lawyers who engage in quiet quitting may not meet their professional obligations or provide the expected quality of service to clients. If a lawyer leaves a firm without formal notification, the risk of malpractice claims, reputational damage and client relationship strain can rise greatly.
As recently as February 2023, a law firm sued one of their own attorneys for this very thing, alleging the attorney took advantage of the remote work environment to promote her own law firm. By better understanding quiet quitting and the ways it can impact a firm’s professional liability insurance policy, including denials and coverage gaps, firms can be better prepared to navigate these quiet but treacherous waters.
Risk of Malpractice Claims
Lawyers who are disengaged or underperforming are more likely to cause errors, omissions, or produce lower quality work. They could even be willfully negligent, resulting in severe consequences for not just the clients they serve but also for the firms they represent.
Coverage Gaps and Potential Denials
While normal professional liability insurance policies can cover more standard errors or omissions issues, quiet quitting that intentionally disrupts day to day operations can create coverage gaps. Attorneys who deliberately neglect a client or fail to perform their duties adequately may fall outside the realm of “professional duties,” potentially voiding their insurance coverage. Firms should therefore review their policies to get a better understanding of how quiet quitting affects coverage. Should an insurer determine a lawyer’s performance or conduct is a result of negligence or malpractice, and that behavior contributed to a malpractice claim, the firm would be responsible for resulting damages.
Strained Client Relationships and Reputational Damage
Any denial of coverage or malpractice claim arising from an attorney who quiet quit threatens the firm’s reputation, professionalism and commitment in the legal community and among its clients. This balance of trust between attorney and client is delicate, and if abused, clients could seek alternative representation, tell other prospective clients about the firm’s misdeeds or even file malpractice claims.
Stopping the Spread of Quiet Quitting
There are several strategies to help law firms better address the risk of quiet quitting, such as:
- Do a culture check: Professional burnout among attorneys is notoriously high. As such, more attorneys are seeking work life balance, especially with the increased popularity of work from home structures. Creating a supportive and engaging work environment can foster a culture of open communication, accountability and general good workplace practices.
- Conduct regular performance reviews: Keeping an eye on your attorney’s day-to-day activities can be difficult, whether they work from home or in a large office. But tracking key performance indicators is much easier. Additionally, check-ins with client satisfaction can help root out the problem in real time – or even before it starts.
- Offer Incentives: All workers respond well to being rewarded for their hard work. By offering continued professional development, bonuses, training or mentorships, and other feedback mechanisms, law firms can keep workers motivated and happy.
The risk posed by attorneys engaged in quiet quitting or intentional underproductivity cannot be underestimated. Whether it is professional liability insurance risks, reputational risks or client dissatisfaction, law firms need to prioritize identifying the problem and developing positive solutions to address it. By proactively addressing quiet quitting, firms can safeguard their professional liability insurance coverage and maintain their reputation in the legal industry.