Making mathematical errors in calculating damages and payoff amounts can quickly spell disaster in civil cases and family law actions. Sloppy lawyers who are not paying attention to the numbers can do considerable damage to their clients. Vigilant and detail-driven procedures, backed up by systems for double-checking calculations, can prevent math errors.
Clients should take the time to familiarize themselves with the “financial forms” that will be used in their cases. In real estate cases, they should ask to look over the real estate closing statement before it is filled in, and be sure to have ample time to understand the form completely and in every respect. In divorce cases, clients should acquaint themselves fully with the financial affidavit, sometimes referred to as a statement of net worth or case information statement, on which they detail all of their assets, liabilities, income and expenses.
Do not rush through procedures in which interest calculations are rendered. Ask questions about how all taxes are calculated. Has a rate of return been applied, and if so, how was this calculated? (For a quick refresher course on how to calculate simple interest, rates of return, and other basic financial formulas, see Mark S. Guralnick’s blog entitled “The Calculating Lawyer”).
When lawyers fly through numbers quickly or chaotically, there is a high risk that errors will be made. Interest rates, tax calculations, and rates of return are all vulnerable areas of error. Basic math errors also occur from time to time.
In some law offices, the attorneys assign financial work to office staff who are not well supervised or managed. For these reasons, it is important to keep a watchful eye on all financial documents and to double-check all financial calculations for the accuracy of the rates, the figures and the calculations. When an error has occurred, and the consequences are significant, the lawyer responsible for the error may have to answer for it.