Legal practice management is an essential tool to reduce your risk of violating ethical safeguards put in place by the bar. As legal tech continues to improve, there are more options for lawyers that help them run a better practice while remaining in compliance. Here are 5 legal practice management insights that will help you reduce your ethics risk.
Assess Your Practice’s Ethics Risks
To know which solutions you can implement to help reduce your ethics risk, you must know the potential risks that you face. You must assess your practice in a way that’s objective. If you can’t, get a professional colleague or a trusted friend to help you determine what needs to improve. Start by considering some of the most common ethical violations that the bar investigates. The most common is the allegation of incompetence. This allegation can arise out of several circumstances. One being disorganization. If you’re ill prepared for meetings with your client, court hearings, phone conferences, or you can’t find the files or notes that you need, being accused of being incompetence is a very real possibility.
Another common allegation is lack of communication. To reduce this ethics risk, you’d want to assess how you’re currently communicating with clients (including how often and if or when you’re returning phone calls and emails) and determine where you can improve.
If you’re missing deadlines or arriving to meetings late, you’ll need to admit to yourself that you’ve got a serious problem. You either need to better manage your time and when you’re scheduling your appointments or you need to become a better steward of it and do whatever it takes for you to be on time to all appointments and fulfill all deadlines.
Create and Use a Document Destruction Policy
Legal practices need a document destruction policy in place. It should be created by the lawyers although it can be implemented, at least in part, by support staff. However, lawyers should determine what should or shouldn’t be destroyed. That decision should not be left to support staff.
A document destruction policy should include contacting clients and former clients to ask them if they want to collect certain items or documents before the file is destroyed. You certainly don’t want to destroy anything that the client may not have in their possession.
ABA Model Rule 1.15(a) was adopted by several states and lists that files should be destroyed six years after they close. However, it’s important for you to review the rules in your jurisdiction. To learn more about what should be included in your document destruction policy, click here.
Invest in Legal Practice Management Software
Legal practice management software can help you reduce ethics risk in many ways. A good legal practice management software can help you with scheduling, client communication, organizing client files, docketing, billing, and even IOLTA trust management. Legal practice management software is similar to project management software. However, it’s designed to meet the needs of lawyers and to provide an increased (and often mandatory) level of security.
Improve Your Communication with Your Clients
Communication is an important part of the attorney-client relationship. Improving client communication is a simple legal practice management method that can help protect you from an ethics complaint. Client communication depends on:
- How much your client knows about their legal matter and the legal system. For example, a business who keeps a lawyer on retainer or uses a lawyer often for small matters may have a better understanding than someone who is going through unexpected litigation.
- How involved they want to be in the matter. Keep in mind that clients pay you to take care of a situation that they can’t handle on their own. Some are concerned only with the final results and some want to know what’s going on every step of the way.
Staying in contact with clients gives them the opportunity to ask questions and to understand what’s happening. Legal matters can take time. However, clients may not recognize the true timeline of the life of a case. So, they may need more reassurance.
- Make sure that you answer phone calls and return messages in a timely way. Sending clients to voicemail every time they call sends the wrong message.
- Make sure clients know when they can expect you to return their call, email, or message. Change your voicemail greeting on days that you’re unable to answer your phone because of back to back meetings or court. Inform callers that you’ll return their calls within a certain amount of time. Use your out of office message to inform people who email you when you’ll be able to respond.
- Don’t wait to give clients bad news. You’re being paid to protect your clients. The longer you keep bad news from them, the more stress you create. Tell clients as soon as you can.
- Manage your email. Email is a tool, but it quickly becomes a chain around our necks. When your email gets out of control, it makes it difficult for you to find the important emails and files that you need. When someone emails you, make sure that you respond in a reasonable amount of time.
Know How to Choose the Right Legal Tech for Your Needs
With all of the legal tech options available for legal practice management, how do you know which will suit your practice best? First, make sure that you understand what you need to accomplish. Look for a legal tech solution that meets your needs. Talk to other lawyers who practice in your area. What are they using? Do they like it? Was it easy for them to implement? Sometimes getting real user experience is the best way to determine the best legal tech for your needs.
If you receive an ethics complaint from the California Bar and you’re not sure where you should start, check out The State Bar Playbook. This is Megan’s interactive and easy to use guide (and community!) that will help guide you through the process from receipt of the complaint all the way through the appeals process!