Think about the engagement letters that your practice sends out. Do they include the agreed upon procedures? If not, they should. An engagement letter that includes agreed upon procedures can protect you form an ethical violation. While all lawyers and firms can benefit from changing their engagement letter to include specific tasks, a detailed letter is extremely valuable to lawyers who have consultation-heavy practices.
Engagement Letters Should Be Used in Matters Big and Small
Regardless of whether you routinely handle small matters or matters that are extremely complex, an engagement letter that includes agreed upon procedures is extremely beneficial. It explains to the client what they can expect to receive from your office. Without a properly detailed engagement letter, you could be in violation of the ethics code in your jurisdiction. In California, the Business and Professions Code Section 6148 requires that a written agreement be used if the fees are expected to surpass $1,000.
Yet, not all jurisdictions require the use of an engagement letter. That doesn’t mean that you should skip it. A written engagement letter that includes agreed upon procedures explains exactly what the client should expect to receive from you during the time you spend on the matter.
Consider this: because of your experience in the legal field, you know the steps that must be taken to resolve a legal conflict in an hour or in more complex cases. Yet, that doesn’t mean that your client knows. Without a detailed engagement letter, your client may expect different services than what are actually required. Sending out a detailed engagement letter can protect you from spending more time and money defending yourself from an ethics complaint filed by a client who expected something totally different.
The purpose of this letter is to protect yourself and your law firm.
Don’t Rely on Your Memory
When it comes to short engagements, it’s easy to forget what you did. Maybe you agreed to explain to a client how to fight a traffic ticket on their own because it was better off financially for the both of you. Yet, if you didn’t show up in court and the client that you would, that’s a problem. How would you feel if you received an ethics complaint for that matter because the client thought you agreed to represent them. How would you feel? Would you remember what you told them you would and wouldn’t do? Even if you remember, how would you prove it?
The problem with relying on your memory is that you’ve created a classic game of he said / she said. An engagement letter including the agreed upon procedures could have protected you from an ethics complain because the client would have a written document that explains what they should expect form your law office. It could even be used as part of your defense if they file an ethics complaint.
Need Help with an Ethics Investigation?
If you’re involved in an ethics investigation, read this post before you decide to represent yourself. Zavieh Law provides limited and full scope representation for lawyers who are being investigated by the bar. To schedule your appointment with Megan Zavieh, click here.