Bar board delays malpractice
issue until March meeting

Staff Writer

The issue of mandatory malpractice insurance for the state's attorneys is scheduled to be addressed at the March 22 meeting of the Board of Governors, after board members opted to hold off on a decision at its January meeting.

Board members expressed interest in receiving input from the insurance industry before formulating a new rule.

A recommendation not to pursue a requirement for professional liability insurance came from the board's committees on admissions and competence and professional liability insurance.

Both committees were delegated the task of examining the matter after the 1995 Commission on the Future of the Legal Profession issued a recommendation calling for mandatory minimum liability insurance for California attorneys.

Public board member Gregory Segall opposed tabling the issue at the November meeting, saying it was a consumer protection matter which should be addressed immediately.

The wrong message

Segall added that just like the issue of permanent disbarment, the public probably assumes all lawyers have liability coverage. "We're sending the wrong kind of message that the legal profession is not policing itself," he said.

He added that since the bar estimates 80 percent of the state's attorneys are already covered by professional liability insurance, the issue probably would not stir up much opposition.

However, Jennifer Feres, the California Young Lawyers Association (CYLA) representative on the board registered her objection to such a rule, saying it would add to the financial burden of new attorneys.

22 percent not covered

A 1987 State Bar survey found that 36 percent of attorneys in private practice had no insurance. However, in 1990, a State Bar demographic survey showed that only 22 percent had no professional liability coverage.

Committee members who studied the issue looked at a minimum level requirement, but determined that due to varying areas of practice, interest, geography and practice format, it would be difficult to establish a figure for minimum coverage.

Board member Jeffrey Tidus agreed, commenting that it would not be easy to set a minimum level of insurance applicable to sole practitioners and attorneys who work in an area such as entertainment law.