Oregon's lawyer malpractice insurance program, the Professional Liability Fund, is unique in the United States, but is it time for an overhaul?
My little law office was thriving. One of my profit centers was doing living trusts for clients, more properly known as testamentary revocable trusts. We do these little jewels for the public instead of regular wills because our Oregon legislators do not do their job. The Oregon legislature should eliminate probate for any estate other than multimillion dollar taxable estates, but that is a story for another day.
We did so many revocable trusts that my paralegal could turn them out in her spare time and I stopped paying attention. My lapse in this particular instance meant that my dead client's stuff went to a near'do-well step-child rather than to her intended second husband--also my client. My survivor-husband-client was not happy, but for some reason continued to trust me, who knows why. I turned the matter over to the Professional Liability Fund (PLF) who assigned it to an able staff claims attorney. The step-child's attorney understood the dilemma and even appeared a bit sympathetic. Thus, the PLF staff attorney and I decided that perhaps reason would prevail and we could pull the chestnut out of the fire. It took a united effort with the husband (my client) and the others working together for a reasonable resolution and settlement that made all parties happy. The PLF did not have to hire an outside defense attorney for me because the PLF staff attorney did such an able job.
The upshot was the husband-client and I got to know each other better through these negotiations. When I asked about the odd symbol on his business card he advised me that he was a mountain climbing guide. Before long I was enrolled and the next year he guided me to the top of Mt. Hood. He remains a friend.
But that isn't what I came here to talk to you about. The PLF isn't working like that anymore because it is under new management.
The Professional Liability Fund -- A Unique Attorney Malpractice Insurance Program
The PLF was established in 1978 after a two year study by members of the Oregon State Bar and was approved by the Oregon legislature in 1977. Initially headed by Lester Rawls, the former Oregon Insurance Commissioner and past manager of a Portland insurance company, the PLF thrived until 2000. A series of unnecessary misjudgments and minor scandals lead to an able CEO's departure and his replacement by Ira R. Zarov. A lawyer since 1974, Mr. Zarov's career was primarily with Legal Aid before becoming the Chief Executive Officer of the PLF in 2000.
The PLF's annual insurance premium was raised from $3,000 to $3,200 in 2007. There are 6,658 Oregon attorneys covered by the PLF. The PLF has 44 employees. During the last two years the PLF "....has seen dramatic increases in the amounts paid to outside legal counsel..." (PLF 2007 Budget Report Page 3) Surprise, Surprise. Past 'bulletinsfromaloha' articles have warned about the unholy alliance between the Oregon State Bar and Portland lawyers. Well, guess who are the "...outside legal counsel..." that are getting these "...dramatic increases..." Loss of innocence is a lifetime pursuit.