There is a lot of data out there regarding legal malpractice claims against lawyers, and it includes things like frequency, type of law, the size of the firms, and even amounts of damages sought. All that information can be very useful to lawyers and law firms who want to identify areas of potential risk and take the necessary precautions.
Some of the most obvious risk prevention measures are relatively easy to employ, so we’re going to look at five ways attorneys and law firms can improve any practice by breaking five bad habits.
Use a Docketing System or Update Your Current One
Lawyers often find that their most precious commodity is time. With court deadlines and client demands hanging over their heads, lawyers are often required to balance several deadlines at once. When it comes to docketing important headlines, though, they might have trouble establishing a foolproof system to prevent any time-related errors. Missing deadlines or failing to attend to your client’s interests or demands are often easy targets for malpractice plaintiffs, even if there is no injury or damage involved.
The rules of professional conduct that every lawyer must abide by try to ensure that lawyers protect their clients’ interests and do not neglect their responsibilities. However, even the most experience lawyer may sometimes fail to comply with a deadline, especially when they do not apply a systematic approach. If lawyers adopt a well-thought docketing system, they are much more likely to prevent any time-related errors. A docketing system also means that they won’t have to keep deadlines in their memory.
Docketing mistakes are often the result of attorneys relying on their email system to manage every aspect of their professional lives. In that way, time management in the electronic communication world, requiring timely responses to deadlines, is an old problem, just with a new dimension.
Lawyers can avoid such errors by employing and re-evaluating their calendar or docket control system. Any effective docket control system should help the practice of law, not hinder it. If the docking system isn’t helping, there’s probably a better system out there that is user-friendly, accurate, and reliable.
The most important thing to do after implementing a docketing system is actually using it; otherwise, if documents or deadlines aren’t being input into the system, lawyers still run the risk of missing deadlines and maybe receiving a claim.
Manage Your Email Inbox Effectively
Another bad habit that attorneys have is using their email inbox as a task list. If the inbox is unlimited in size or nearly unlimited, busy attorneys can inadvertently miss deadlines or important communications because of delays in reading emails. Ignoring emails because you’ll “get to them later” can create unnecessary risks.
Handling your emails and organizing them appropriately can help a lot in this regard. Some law firms limit the number of emails that can be stored in an inbox in an attempt to encourage lawyers to process them in a timelier fashion.
Keep Your Insurance Coverage Up to Date
Legal malpractice insurance is an absolute necessity. Not all states may require attorneys to have legal malpractice insurance or to disclose to the bar if they do not, but it is a benefit to all attorneys, whether or not they anticipate receiving claims. Every attorney should be honest in their self-assessment about the practice areas they engage in and what they need for insurance.
An existing professional liability should be reviewed before a claim is made in order to identify any gaps and to consider whether the policy provides everything the attorney needs.
Secure Your Mobile Device
Modern technology can sometimes create challenges for lawyers, whose professional duty is to maintain clients’ confidences and secrets. Each attorney essentially carries with them a computer with access to their firm’s files through their smartphones. To ensure that information is kept safe, most law firms require the use of a passcode on the devices. That way, if the phone is ever lost or stolen, no one will have access to the firm’s files and network.
Some firms also install software on mobile devices that allows them to pe wiped remotely in the event that they are lost or stolen. Others use software that encrypts the data on a device and allows it to be tracked via GPS.
Always Use Engagement Letters
Engagement letters are always a good idea because they set out the parameters of the attorney-client relationship. The wording in them should be very clear and they should be updated for additional matters whenever appropriate.
Consistently using engagement letters can help an attorney reduce malpractice claims or limit their scope. Having the terms of the attorney-client relationship written down may prove helpful in the future. The terms may include the scope of the representation, the duration, and the fees.
Using a general engagement letter can suggest that attorneys intend to advise the client on any possible legal issue that may arise, which can create more unnecessary risks.
There are several bad habits that attorneys employ into their habits, but by identifying areas for improvement, they can reduce the possibility or severity of a malpractice claim.