Chandler Law’s Top 10 Tips Revisited – Part I

 In Georgia State Bar Grievances, Legal Malpractice

We often get asked to speak at CLE seminars on the topics of Risk Management, Legal Ethics, and Professional Liability. One of the more interactive parts of our presentation is our list of Top 10 Tips for avoiding those “Houston, we have a problem” situations. Based on our experience suing and defending lawyers in professional liability cases, and defending lawyers against client complaints made to the Georgia State Bar, we identified these tips to help lawyers learn lessons from the mistakes others have already made.

For Part I, here are the first 5 tips to keep in mind as you work with your clients and run your law practice.

1. Know the Rules

The Georgia Supreme Court has revised several of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct over the past years. Some of these changes affect your everyday practice, such as Rule 1.15(I) Safekeeping of Property and Rule 4.3 Dealing with Unrepresented Persons. And we’ve discussed the Rules governing conflicts of interest. Also, the ABA has considered and issued  a number of technology-related Rules updates. On May 11, 2017, the ABA issued Formal Opinion 477 – Securing Communications of Protected Client Information. Topics discussed in the opinion include: (1) the duty of competence; (2) the duty of confidentiality; (3) understanding the nature of hacking threats; (4) understanding how information is transmitted and stored; (5) using reasonable electronic security measures; (6) training lawyers and non-lawyers on electronic security protocol; and (8) conducting due diligence on vendors providing technology and security services.

2. Plan for the worst, and hope for the best

Before you receive a Bar grievance or face a professional malpractice claim, have your personal and professional policies reviewed:

  • When you change practice areas.
  • Adding or removing employees.
  • When the value of your engagements or case portfolio increase.

Protect your assets with sufficient insurance, wills, trusts and estate plans. Consult a lawyer or other firm with a practice focused on asset protection for the professional.

3. Know your clients

Before you take on a new client, make sure you know who that client really is. Meet them prior to undertaking representation, find out their motivation for hiring counsel, and listen closely to their responses. Watch for warning signs and red flags, like an improper purpose for hiring counsel, financial inability to retain legal counsel, or questionable business ethics. Trust your gut and act on your instincts. Avoiding bad clients is more than half of sustaining a successful practice.

4. Copy your clients

Send your client a copy of what you receive, and a copy of what you send out. When you do this for every communication, no commentary is necessarily required for the transmittal. Timeliness is critical so your client can make informed decisions. You can always follow up with an explanation letter or phone call after the client has had to time review the communication. For important decisions that are based on a document sent to the client, follow up with a decision confirming letter or e-mail memorializing that decision. This minimizes the chances of “buyer’s remorse.”

5. Communicate early and often

Always put it in writing, and never assume anything. This is especially important when beginning, rejecting, or ending client engagements. Clear engagement letters should define the beginning point, objectives, scope of work, payment terms, dispute resolution provisions, and the end point.And even if the client is a repeat business client, send a new matter engagement letter.

Disengagement letters help determine the time when your duties to the client ended. When the matter is completed, send a confirmation letter, which welcomes the client’s retaining you for future work. Doing so clearly delineates each representation. This can be critical if a claim or grievance is later filed.

When rejecting a potential client, send a non-engagement letter. E-mail works well for this task. Establish “rejected or declined” folders and place all non-engagement communications in those folders, labeled by date and name. Remember, some people consider one visit to an attorney’s office enough to establish an attorney-client relationship.

Stay tuned for the next 5 Tips…

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