The profession that has been blamed for causing the liability insurance crisis is not immune from its effects: Lawyers across the country are reporting soaring premiums for their malpractice insurance, and some are finding that it is not available at all.
"How bad is it for lawyers? It's terrible," said Ronald E. Mallen, a San Francisco lawyer who has studied the problem as a member of the American Bar Association Committee on Lawyers' Professional Liability.
"The typical lawyer is paying four times the premium of two years ago."
In California, he said, the average premium is about $7,200 -- seven times the amount two years earlier -- and one of every three lawyers who had professional liability insurance 1 1/2 years ago cannot obtain it at any price.
Although the situation in the District is not as severe as in California, lawyers here also have been seeing the effects of the insurance crisis. "What's being felt across the country is being felt here," said David F. Grimaldi, chairman of a special D.C. Bar committee appointed in December to study the problem.
Insurance for lawyers has become "unavailable or rate-prohibitive," Grimaldi's committee reported recently. "Many lawyers and law firms in the District of Columbia are bare, unable to find or afford professional liability insurance." Lawyers who specialize in securities law or real estate work have been particularly hard hit.
A typical five-lawyer firm that was paying $1,300 for $1 million in coverage five years ago would be paying "certainly triple" that amount now, said Lawrence C. Dalley of Dalley & Wilkes, which administers an insurance program sponsored by the Bar Association of the District of Columbia.
Although that amount is far below premiums for medical malpractice insurance, Grimaldi said, "Part of our fear is that what the commercial market did to the doctors it's going to eventually do to the lawyers."
To help ease the strain, Grimaldi's committee proposed that the D.C. Bar approve creation of an independent, lawyer-owned, bar-sponsored insurance company to provide insurance to District lawyers. Seven states have such bar-sponsored companies.
"It's not just the size of premiums," Grimaldi said. "As important and possibly more important is providing a company that will be stable and dependable and we won't have to worry about the caprices of the commercial market. We're not forming a company to sell cheap insurance."
The bar is still in the early stages of debating that proposal.
It plans to survey members to assess the scope of the problem and preferred responses.
In Maryland, the General Assembly passed legislation on the last day of its most recent session as part of its tort reform package to permit the bar to form a not-for-profit company to provide malpractice insurance.
To fund the company, all lawyers in the state are to be assessed $150; they will be able to obtain insurance for another $400.
Update on The Great New York Salary War: Rosenman, Colin, Lewis, Freund & Cohen, which in late April termed the move to increase starting salaries to $65,000 a "perverse and self-destructive course" and announced its plans to stick with starting pay of $54,000, last week said it was going to have to follow the spiral started by Cravath, Swaine & Moore.
"It was our hope that a substantial number of other large firms would also choose this course [of not following the increase] themselves," the firm said in a statement. "This has failed to occur, and accordingly we have determined to adjust our associate salaries so as to remain competitive."
Said firm partner Peter F. Nadel, "This was a good try. It didn't work . . . . That's a sad result."
D.C. Bar election results are in.
Robert E. Jordan III of Steptoe & Johnson has been chosen president-elect; Pauline A. Schneider of Hunton & Williams has won the secetary's post, and Constance L. Belfiore, most recently a special assistant to U.S. Attorney Joseph E. diGenova, will serve as treasurer.
Elected to the board of governors were Daryl A. Chamblee of Steptoe & Johnson, Donald T. Bucklin of Squire, Sanders & Dempsey, Lois J. Schiffer of National Public Radio, Eleanor Holmes Norton of Georgetown University Law Center and James Robertson of Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering. The bar will hold its annual meeting June 25 at the Capital Hilton, featuring a keynote address by U.S. District Judge George N. Leighton of Illinois on "Professionalism of American Lawyers."
White House Deputy Counsel Richard Hauser will join the Washington office of Baker & Hostetler . . . . Washington lawyer Ronald L. Goldfarb is hosting a new weekly series about law called "Devil's Advocates," Wednesdays at 11 p.m. on WETA . . . . In the U.S. attorney's office here, Thomas E. Zeno succeeds Wendy Bebie as chief of the special proceedings section . . . . Robert Cadeaux and Donald J. Chaikin, classmates at American University Law School, class of 1963, are sharing the Trial Lawyers Association of Metropolitan Washington, D.C., 31st annual Outstanding Trial Lawyer of the Year Award . . . . 92.3 percent of 1984 law school graduates who responded to a recently released survey by the National Association for Law Placement said they had found jobs; 9 percent of those were not in the legal field.