Professional Liability Insurance
Washington lawyers are not required to have professional liability insurance coverage. However, they are required to report to the Washington State Bar Association, on a yearly basis, whether they have coverage. They are not required to report the following:
Not all lawyers maintain professional liability insurance. Some lawyers may make a responsible decision not to maintain insurance because the lawyer is an in-house or government lawyer, or because the lawyer may choose to be financially responsible (self-insured).
The Washington State Bar Association does not independently verify the insurance information provided by lawyers. There is no guarantee that a lawyer has maintained insurance coverage after the report date or will continue to maintain insurance coverage in the future. There is also no guarantee that a lawyer has adequate insurance limits to cover all potential claims or that a particular claim will be covered by the policy. Note that it is also possible that the information displayed was erroneously reported or incorrectly entered in the State Bar's database.
The following is a list of questions that a prospective client might ask before entering into a lawyer-client relationship with a particular lawyer:
Professional liability insurance policies provide insurance coverage for some but not all professional liability (malpractice) claims made against a lawyer. Most professional liability policies are written on a "claims-made" basis. This is different from the usual home-owners or automobile insurance policy. This means that the insurance company providing the insurance has agreed to cover claims that are made against the lawyer during the term of the policy. In other words, the policy that applies to a particular claim is the policy that is in effect at the time the claim is presented to the insurance company with a demand for payment - not the policy in effect when the lawyer's alleged negligence or mistake took place. Malpractice insurance policies typically limit the amount that the insurance company can be required to pay on each claim and the total amount that the insurance company can be required to pay on all claims made against the lawyer during the term (or effective period) of the policy. The maximum amount of coverage provided by a malpractice insurance policy is called the "limits" of the policy.
Rule 26 of the Admission to Practice Rules (APR) provides that every active member of the Washington State Bar Association is required to disclose annually whether the lawyer maintains professional liability insurance.
The purpose of the insurance disclosure rule is client protection. Under the Washington Rules of Professional Conduct, one of the basic principles of the lawyer-client relationship is that the lawyer will give the client sufficient information regarding material facts to allow the client to make an informed decision in matters relating to the representation. See, e.g., RPC 1.4; 1.7. Whether a lawyer maintains professional liability insurance may be a material fact for some persons in considering whether to hire a lawyer, and it should be easily available to a client or prospective client.
APR 26 requires that each active status lawyer certify annually on a form approved by the Board of Governors (a) whether the lawyer is in private practice; (b) if so, whether the lawyer maintains professional liability insurance; (c) whether the lawyer intends to continue to maintain insurance; and (d) whether the lawyer is a full-time government lawyer or house counsel and does not represent clients outside that capacity. The rule also requires notification to the WSBA within 30 days if the lawyer in private practice ceases to be insured. The rule does not require lawyers to have professional liability insurance.
Failure to comply with the disclosure requirement will result in administrative suspension from practice until the information is disclosed, in the same way that lawyers may be suspended for failure to comply with the continuing legal education reporting requirements, but it is not a disciplinary violation.
This insurance information is available to clients or prospective clients on the lawyer directory on the WSBA website or by contacting the WSBA. In practice, the availability of this information will operate similarly to the contractor insurance and bonding information available to the public through the Department of Labor and Industries by contacting the Department or searching the Department's website.
The ABA Standing Committee on Lawyers' Professional Liability has a very helpful workbook entitled Selecting Legal Malpractice Insurance. The book provides easy-to-understand information about malpractice insurance policies, a glossary of terms, insurance policy checklists, a pull-out comparison chart to help you choose a policy, and a state-by-state listing of malpractice insurance carriers.
Mark the one box that fits your situation. If you represent clients in any capacity (whether it be pro bono or as a contract attorney) you should find out whether or not the organization for which you are providing services maintains and intends to maintain professional liability insurance and mark the appropriate box.
APR 26 requires written notification within 30 days if your coverage lapses, is no longer in effect or terminates for any reason. After you have filed your Professional Liability Insurance Disclosure during the license renewal process, you may make changes to it by logging into www.mywsba.org and clicking the Edit Liability Insurance Info link. Or, you may send a letter to the WSBA, attention Licensing Project Lead.
To pay your license fees online, simply access the WSBA Member Login page and follow the directions.
Step-by-step instructions to complete the annual license renewal and checklists
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