A clerical error is a mistake that is made as a result of simple oversight. It could be a simple typographical error or the unintentional misspelling of a word, the transposition of numbers, or some other error that appears on a document or legal paper. Because it is an accidental oversight, a clerical error is inherently the product of negligence. When a lawyer fails to catch it and fix it, and when it results in a loss of money or rights to a client, then the clerical error amounts to legal malpractice.
Clerical errors can come from almost anywhere during the evolution of a legal case. They can come from a typing error by a secretary or clerk. They can flow from transcription errors caused by a stenographer mishearing, mistyping, misreading or misunderstanding a word or a phrase. They can be caused by a mistake in copying one document to another, or in transferring information from one form to another. Often, they occur when somebody attempts to pull information from their notes or emails and input that information into a computer software program.
Usually, clerical errors are minor, inadvertent slip-ups that can be fixed without any adverse consequences. For example, if a lawyer accidentally files a motion using the wrong docket number, the error will almost certainly be discovered by the court clerk or the opposing lawyer, if not immediately, then within a reasonable time before any major confusion ensues.
Clerical Errors That Cause Big Problems
What if a prosecutor in your criminal case is relying on inaccurate information about you when he offers a plea bargain deal to your lawyer? If a prosecutor or district attorney takes down the wrong information about you and then uses it against you in sentencing, the information may then result in an unfair amount of jail time. The information will be incorrectly passed onto jail officials and probation and parole officers, multiplying the error many times over.
What if a court clerk takes down the information incorrectly and your lawyer fails to catch it? If the judge sentences you to 18 months of probation as a result of your criminal offense, but then cuts you a break and says you can end your probation early, as soon as you complete an anger management class and pay a fine, then the clerk must properly mark the docket to reflect the option for early termination of probation. If the clerk fails to do so, then your lawyer must request a correction when he reviews the papers. If your lawyer fails to do so, you may find yourself serving 18 full months of probation even after completing the class and paying the fine.
Why Some Lawyers Have Frequent Clerical Errors
Data entry mistakes caused by human error are sometimes unavoidable. But they should be occasional, if not rare. Some law firms are always making mistakes – using the wrong name, confusing social security numbers or birth dates, miscalculating numbers, inputting improper financial data. There are many reasons why these law firms habitually make clerical errors, including:
- Lack of an effective data entry software system: Most modern legal case management programs replicate information and data that has already been entered once, minimizing the need for a secretary to re-type or re-enter important data.
- Work overload: Some law firms suffer from overworked employees, leading to sloppy performance. Poor manpower planning and excessive overtime staffing can lead to careless mistakes by fatigued workers.
- Poor training: In some cases, a law firm assigns a poorly trained employee to handle a complicated task. Or, the firm assigns work without giving clear or complete instructions. When untrained employees are not monitored and supervised, they can easily become confused and error-prone.
- Lack of Oversight Standards: Every firm needs to install careful standards of performance, with protocols to avoid mistakes. This may involve having one employee check the work of other employees, or assigning employees to work in
- Monotony Management: Law firm employers must also perform regular checks on the boredom levels of their employees. If secretaries or clerical personnel are distracted and appear to be working blindly in a fog, then it may be time for a change of scenery, or a re-assignment of duties. Monotonous work performed over long periods of time will cause even the most diligent worker to daydream, to look for diversions, or to get lazy and careless.
If a lawyer or a law firm made a clerical error that led to an adverse outcome in your case, you should consult with the Law Office of Mark S. Guralnick. You may have a claim for legal malpractice.
To schedule a consultation with our firm to discuss your legal malpractice case, contact The Law Offices of Mark S. Guralnick.