by Art Levy
Warren R. Trazenfeld didn’t go to law school thinking he’d end up spending the bulk of his career suing other lawyers. He became a real estate attorney instead at a corporate law firm in Miami. There, he spent some of his time writing title insurance, which led to litigation work for title insurance underwriters. Those cases, he says, gave him an idea for a new specialty.
“I found the underwriters were having to pay out on claims because lawyers had screwed up,” he says. “So, I said, ‘Well, let me sue the lawyers’ — and when I decided to jump off the big-firm perch, that became my niche.”
Twenty years later, he’s among the busiest legal malpractice attorneys in the state. He gets about 50 inquiries a month from people unhappy with their attorneys, but most don’t meet the specific criteria he has set before he takes a case. For a case to be winnable — and economically worthwhile to pursue — he says malpractice clients have to be able to prove that their attorney made a clear error that led to economic damages.
Nearly as important, a good case also needs an accused attorney who has insurance. Otherwise, there’s little chance the victim will collect any money. Florida attorneys are not required to carry malpractice insurance, except for attorneys working through lawyer referral services. The referral service lawyers are required to buy at least $100,000 worth of coverage. Among all of the attorneys working in Florida, an estimated 60% have malpractice insurance.
Attorneys — like everyone else — don’t like to get sued. Some will never admit they made a mistake. Many get angry. Once, an attorney defendant threatened to jump across a table and rip Trazenfeld’s face off. It’s part of the job. “If you’re not a big dog in this area,” Trazenfeld says, “you should stay on the porch.”
While legal malpractice remains more than 90% of his caseload, Trazenfeld’s hobby has led him to a second legal specialty: Defending bicyclists. He started taking bike accident cases after cars hit a couple of
his bike-riding friends. He now calls himself the “Florida bicycle lawyer.”
The law pertaining to bike-car accidents leans in favor of the bicyclist. Vehicle drivers are required to give bicyclists a three-foot space between the car and bike. With the exception of cases involving bicyclists driving the wrong way on a road or riding at night without a light, motorists typically are found at fault nearly every time.
Even so, he advises that everyone who rides a bike in Florida purchase uninsured motorist coverage. In Florida, the $10,000 of PIP coverage motorists must carry usually won’t be enough. Uninsured motorist coverage, he says, “will pick up the slack.”