Here is a commentary from Larry Upshaw on the pro/con arguments for a law firm putting an arbitration clause in the retainer agreement. From plaintiff’s prospective, it can be a costly problem. Take a commercial legal malpractice in which there are potential $ 1 million damages.
A trial can be had for the cost of an index number. The arbitrator’s fees can be as high as $ 50,000.
From the blog: "It’s curious that many lawyers routinely put arbitration clauses in their engagement letters with clients. Here you have quite literally the foot soldiers in the third branch of government, charged by our professional oath to be officers of the court. And yet, in contracts with clients, these attorneys opt out of the court system by obligating clients to take any dispute to arbitration.
The subtext of that conduct seems clear: these lawyers don’t trust the court system to treat them fairly and prefer the private dispute resolution process of arbitration to court. Call me crazy, but that certainly sounds out of whack. It’s kind of like a doctor saying, “If I get sick, whatever you do, do not take me to a hospital.”
While it may seem ironic that lawyers are running for protection to arbitration clauses, there is an even bigger ironic surprise waiting for these lawyers who opt out of the court system. Keep in mind that the arbitration clause in your engagement letter obligates your client to pursue his or her malpractice claim against you in arbitration instead of in court. And it therefore obligates your insurance carrier to have its liability for your malpractice determined in arbitration instead of in court. It turns out that insurance companies actually like jury trials and are not always all that fond of arbitration. Lawyers who force their clients into arbitration and then get an arbitration case for malpractice are now routinely receiving a “Reservation of Rights” letter from their insurance carrier, threatening to deny insurance coverage because the lawyer deprived the insurance company of its right to a jury trial.
Next time you are tempted to show your distrust for the court system by including an arbitration clause in your fee contracts, keep in mind that you may have just cancelled your malpractice insurance policy. "