Background - Practices (Details)

Legal Ethics and Malpractice


The legal ethics and malpractice team at Crowell & Moring understands the unique ethical and professional challenges facing lawyers and law firms that seek to operate a profitable enterprise and maintain the highest standards of conduct. Our practitioners have years of experience providing counsel in both areas, from advising clients on law firm formation, organization, governance, management, dissolution, and partner departures, to representing them in matters involving professional ethics and discipline, and in defense of malpractice claims. We also serve as expert witnesses in malpractice and ethics proceedings, and have served as outside ethics counsel to numerous law firms.

Our professional liability lawyers have held leadership roles in numerous bar associations and judicial advisory and disciplinary committees. On behalf of the District of Columbia Bar, one of our partners served as president of the organization, while other firm lawyers have chaired its Legal Ethics Committee, co-chaired the Disciplinary System Review Committee, and served on the Rules of Professional Responsibility Review Committee. Other positions of responsibility include service on the District of Columbia Board on Professional Responsibility, on the Grievance Committees of the District Court for the District of Columbia and the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, and on the Committee on Unauthorized Practice of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. Several of our team members teach legal ethics at area law schools and lecture regularly to industry groups on ethics and malpractice issues.

Expert Testimony on Malpractice and Ethics Matters

We have been qualified by numerous courts as experts in malpractice litigation and, on behalf of clients, we frequently provide witness statements and testimony in civil litigation and disciplinary matters. Our in-depth knowledge of ethics law enables us to provide this service in an expeditious and cost-effective manner.

Defense of Malpractice Claims

We have successfully represented prominent law firms in defending major malpractice claims and opposing disqualification motions. In our representation of lawyers and law firms in malpractice cases, we bring to bear considerable litigation experience and a deep understanding of the legal principles applicable to legal malpractice claims. We also understand the role of the insurer in malpractice litigation, and help clients avoid difficulties in that relationship.

Counseling on Law Firm Governance, Mergers, Breakups, and Transitions

We have advised numerous law firms and individual lawyers on intra-law firm issues, including drafting and revising law firm partnership agreements, and counseling parties to law firm breakups and lateral moves on their rights and duties to clients and to fellow partners. We also provide representation where disputes over partnership rights and duties have led to arbitration or litigation.

Mediation and Arbitration of Lawyer-Client Disputes

It is typically in a professional’s best interests to confront potential client claims with an early assessment of liability exposure and the related risks to the firm of a public — and often highly publicized — malpractice proceeding. Through early engagement in the client claim process, we can often work with the parties (and the insurer) to achieve a prompt and economical solution that avoids the expense and distraction of malpractice litigation.

Counseling and Representation on Professional Responsibility and Disciplinary Matters

We counsel clients on a range of ethics rules, including conflict of interest, confidentiality and privilege, and withdrawal questions that lawyers may encounter in difficult client relationships. When ethics inquiries are made by bar counsel, our understanding of professional disciplinary systems and proceedings enables us to provide guidance that can help preserve a lawyer's ability to continue serving his or her own clients. We have represented numerous individual lawyers in District of Columbia and Maryland Bar Counsel investigations and disciplinary proceedings.