You may be wondering why a law practice that focuses on ethics violation defense published a blog post for solo lawyers to learn about law office management. The fact is that how you choose to manage your law office can directly affect the possibility that you’ll be accused of an ethics violation. Regardless of whether a solo lawyer hangs out their shingle right after they pass the bar or after they’ve spent some time working in a larger firm, they may not have the law firm management information they need.
Get an Accountability Partner
When it comes to managing your law office, one of the best things you can do is to find an accountability partner. An accountability partner is an experienced solo lawyer who can give you input on what you plan to implement into your law office management plan, and they can hold you accountable for what you do and what you don’t do. You can use accountability partners for the small daily items you may struggle with such as docketing and billing. You could use an accountability partner when you implement changes if you’ve been involved in an ethics complaint. Just remember that you are the one who is ultimately responsible for meeting deadlines and making changes. You are responsible for your law practice and your actions.
Focus Your Law Office Management Policy on the Areas Most Often Cited in Ethics Complaints
First, make sure that you open and understand how to manage a trust account for your clients. The basics include opening the account, receiving retainers, withdrawing funds, keeping earned fees, dealing with disputed fees, refunding fees, keeping the trust funds separated, and the right way to hold large funds. While there are some basic steps that you can take for each area, you need to read and apply the laws in your state. Consequences for ethical complaints filed because of mishandling money are very serious. This is one of the most important focus areas of your law office management plan.
Second, keep up with your billing. Make time each day to update your billing. If you don’t have time to do it, find a professional who can take care of it for you. Clients do not like surprises when it comes to their invoices. Choose a specific time each month to send out invoices. Keep an eye on how much time you spend on a case. If the client’s retainer is almost gone, let them know and ask how they would like to proceed. This is helpful because it gives clients more control over their matter and can help them control their expenses.
Third, come up with a communications plan. Your communications plan should cover approximately how long clients or potential clients will likely wait before they receive a return phone call or email back, how you plan to communicate over social media (remember to look at your state rules or hire a professional who has legal marketing experience), and how often you will send out case status updates. Here are two important guidelines for solo lawyers:
- Return all phone calls, emails, and voicemails within 24 business hours. If you don’t have an answer to the client’s question or you haven’t had time to research the matter, just call and let them know you’re still looking into it.
- Share your update plan with your staff members and your clients. In addition to sharing your case update plan, you must follow through on it.
Why are those two law office management guidelines so important? Because lack of communication and billing surprises are two common reasons that people file ethics complaints against lawyers. This is one area of your law office management plan that is within your control. You have the ability to minimize the risk of a complaint in this area just by implementing and following best practices.
Finally, create a game plan for every case that comes in. Lack of competence and diligence are two more reasons that people file bar complaints against solo lawyers. So, make sure that you’re only taking cases that you’re experienced to handle and make sure that you do what you’re supposed to. Come up with a basic check list that walks you through everything you should do for particular matters. This could include research, interviews, depositions, sending out case updates, and anything else that a matter will require. This will help you stay organized.
Solo Lawyers and Ethics Complaints
When solo lawyers find out they’ve been reported to the bar, it’s important that they get the help that they need to mount a vigorous defense. Because of the serious nature of ethics complaints, Zavieh Law offers both limited and full scope representation for lawyers. To schedule your 45 minute phone consultation to begin planning for your defense, click here.