Traps for the Unwary

Traps for the Unwary is reportedly the most popular publication in the history of the Massachusetts Bar Association. The book is a collection of ethical and legal malpractice hazards, mainly for Massachusetts lawyers engaged in civil litigation. It received an award from the American Bar Association for service to the bar.

Traps for the Unwary was conceived and originally written by James E. Harvey, Jr. and first published in 1988.  Since then it has been updated and expanded five times. The sixth edition was published in December 2011.  Mr. Harvey again served as its editor-in-chief.  It has benefited from contributions by over 100 lawyers.

For exampleTraps for the Unwary includes 27 short statutes of limitations.  A typical trap is the six-year statute of repose, G.L.c. 260, sec. 2B, regarding claims arising from improvements to real property.  The statute could run and the client’s claim could be barred only one month after the client first meets with the attorney, if the improvement was completed 5 years and 11 month before that date.

Another trap:  If a lawyer attempts to represent both an injured operator and an injured passenger — typically family members or friends — in a motor vehicle accident case, that lawyer could well have a conflict of interest that would bar the lawyer from representing either.  The lawyer also runs the risk of breaching the cooperation clause in the operator’s liability insurance policy. 

Mr. Harvey welcomes comments and requests lawyers to contact him if they have suggestions for inclusion in the next edition at

To obtain a copy of Traps for the Unwary, please contact the Massachusetts Bar Association.