I often wonder how, in this day and age of ever increasing laws and regulations why more attorneys do not choose to follow a path of specialization in their law practice. When I first started practicing in 1995 my office used to do real estate closings, title searches, no-fault divorces, foreclosures, partition suits and even some general district court representation. In our firm I decided that we needed to specialize and enhance our expertise in the fields of estate planning and elder law. To that end, we even changed the name of the firm to The Estate & Elder Law Center of Southside Virginia, PLLC. That's it, that is all we do.
So I shake my head when I peruse the yellow page ads, seeing law firms that seemingly practice every field of law. My favorite is when the firm lists their practice areas in it goes something like this: "personal injury, car wrecks, truck wrecks, motorcycle wrecks, slip and falls, wills."
Keeping that in mind, in the news recently was the case of Richmond lawyer James B Thorsen. I hesitate to use his name but it has been published in the press. By all accounts, Mr. Thorsen is an excellent attorney. This is from his bio:
Jim Thorsen’s practice has focused on complex civil litigation for over thirty years. He represents individuals in serious personal injury cases, including medical malpractice, as well as employees and executives in major areas of employment law such as EEOC matters, whistleblower claims, wrongful termination, non-competes and contracts. Jim also represents individuals in the fields of civil rights laws, First Amendment issues, defamation law, malicious prosecution, and domestic relations.
Jim has received a number of honors in the areas of employment law and civil litigation for many years. He has been listed in Best Lawyers in America® since 2009. Jim has also been included in Virginia Super Lawyers® since 2006 and, most recently in 2016, he was chosen as one of seven Virginia Super Lawyers® in the area of employment litigation for plaintiffs. He has been selected as Legal Elite by Virginia Business Magazine for many years and he is rated AV®-Preeminent™ by Martindale Hubbell. Jim is sought after as a speaker in his practice areas and he has been a frequent lecturer for Virginia State Bar Continuing Legal Education programs since 2009.
Did you notice what was missing? Mr. Thorsen is not, by his own admission, an estate planning attorney.
However, Thorsen decided to draft a will for a client. Mr. Thorsen admitted to making a mistake, a "scrivener's error" when he left off the Richmond SPCA as a residuary beneficiary. That mistake cost him and his firm over $600, 000 as a result of the malpractice suit filed against him.
The case serves as a cautionary tale to both client and practitioner. Client, seek out an experienced estate planning attorney! Your lawyer might be the best trial attorney in the area, it doesn't mean they can properly draft a will or trust. And to my colleagues in the bar, is the few hundred dollars you might make drafting what you believe to be "simple wills" worth it in comparison to the fact a third party beneficiary can now sue you for the mistake?