Refunds for Shoddy Service – If It’s Good Enough for Biglaw, It’s Good Enough for Solos

This article, Payback for Bad Service, Connecticut Law Tribune (8/29/05) caught my eye for several reasons.  The article reports that a North Haven, Connecticut attorney, Bruce Killion has has been ordered to pay his former clients more than $25,000 for shoddy representation.  The clients had retained Killion to represent them in a slip and fall case but Killion failed to file suit before the statute of limitations expired.  The clients also filed a grievance against the attorney which remains pending.

The reason the article intrigued me was because it raises the issue of
whether attorney malpractice and grievances should be handled through
private resolution between the parties without intervention from the
bar.  That’s how I suspect things work in biglaw – when large firm
attorneys commit error or ethical violations they’ll refund money or
pay clients off to stay out of trouble with the bar.  By contrast, most
small clients don’t have that option, in part because with a
contingency case, there’s no money to refund anyway and in part because
unfortunately, many small law firms don’t have the money or the
malpractice coverage to buy clients off.   And even if a small firm is
able to come up with money to resolve a claim with a disgruntled
client, once a complaint reaches the board, it’s out of the client’s
hands.

In this case, I don’t know if a buy out (as opposed to disciplinary
action) is fully appropriate; after all, missing a statute of
limitations is pretty serious stuff.  But there might be infractions
less severe – perhaps just failure to timely return calls or
overcharging where a refund or money back should be sufficient remedy
without involving the grievance committee of the bar.