Lawyers: insure and tell

Doctors cannot treat patients without it. Contractors cannot build homes, nor can plumbers plumb.

Liability insurance is a state requirement here in Texas, and not just for professionals and skilled tradesmen. You have to pay for it, too, if you wish to get behind the wheel of a car.

In these litigious times, almost everybody doing anything of import has to protect themselves against the possibility of being sued. That's except for lawyers, of course, the ones doing the suing.

There's a movement in Austin to change this. Last week, a state Supreme Court task force voted down a measure to require Texas lawyers who don't carry malpractice insurance to tell potential clients beforehand. Supporters plan to keep trying; next month they'll take their idea to the Texas Bar's Board of Directors.

The concept's rationale: we mere mortals might then decide for ourselves whether we want to take the risk of hiring a non-insured one.

Predictably, lawyers are crying foul. In a lawyer poll--80,000 are licensed to practice law in Texas--70 percent opposed the idea, using arguments that wreak of irony if not hilarity.

Some lawyers contend letting clients know they are insured will prompt clients to--get this--sue them.

"It's.. like painting a target on your back," complained Plano attorney Charles Awalt, as quoted in the Austin American-Statesman.

Then there's the cost. Paying a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per year in premiums, many solo practitioners say they cannot afford to insure themselves and stay in business.

Our hope would be that insurance costs would serve as a deterrent against lawyers prone to behaving badly.

Cannot afford insurance? Too bad. Maybe you shouldn't be practicing law in the first place.

Moreover, lawyers surely can't suggest that medical malpractice insurance makes doctors a target, or auto insurance puts a bulls-eye on drivers. Lawyers making such a claim about malpractice insurance are being disingenuous.

It's our view that rather than deserving special treatment, lawyers should be held to the highest standards of all. They hold a monopoly on practicing law and have been granted special and immense powers and responsibilities as sworn officers of the court.

That means they should be at least as sensitive as an electrician to the possibility that they could make a mistake, and that their clients might need to be made whole.

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