Before leaving the office for vacation…
Updating our post from last year, use the below checklist to ensure that you are meeting the requirements of the Georgia Civil Practice Act and applicable State Bar of Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct before you leave the office for vacation.
In a small building environment? Set your thermostats and take care of exposed pipes so things don’t freeze, or needlessly waste heat, while you’re out. Give employees and cleaning company personnel the alarm code if they’ll be entering the building while the office is closed. There is nothing worse than having to deal with an alarm call during the holidays.
Sometimes bad things happen. You could be seriously injured in a car wreck, stuck in the hospital in a faraway place and unable to respond to e-mail or voice-mail at your office. Identify a backup lawyer, in the event that you’re incapacitated for an extended period of time. This is especially important for solo lawyers. Create a list of telephone numbers and passwords so that people, information, and files can be accessed. In addition to providing telephone numbers and passwords to computers, accounts, and files, it is also a good idea to outline in a step by step format what your spouse or your successor counsel should do in the event something happens to you. Prepare a list of active clients/matters as well with any applicable upcoming deadlines, so your successor knows how to identify and communicate with clients, and meet client matter deadlines.
Many malpractice policies ask you to identify successor counsel, should something happen to you. Make sure that the successor counsel knows they are a successor on your policy. Make sure your law partners or spouse knows who you have identified as successor counsel. Your malpractice carrier or insurance agent should be one of those people on your plan to contact first. The malpractice carrier may be able to help provide some guidance.
Leaves of absence
For all active litigation matters, file a leave of absence with the court or administrative agency. While not strictly required if you are not actually on an upcoming calendar, it’s often a good idea, especially if you’re going to be out of town for an extended period of time. Consult the applicable rules to make sure that you are in compliance.
Check all active litigation matters’ calendars and address any items that were missed. And check that all calendars sync up and that an event on one calendar has not been accidentally left off another calendar. Reschedule any deadlines or events that were set for when you are out of town, or have someone from your office cover it. Many times these sort of overlooked things result in a potential claim or bar grievance. Don’t let a missed hearing, response deadline, or statute of limitations deadline turn into a malpractice claim or bar grievance.
Lines of communication with clients
The Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct require lawyers to communicate effectively with their clients. Part of that responsibility is letting them know when you are away from the practice of law. Sometimes emergencies arise, and clients will want to talk. But it’s imperative that we find balance in our lives and our work. Don’t let a client needlessly disrupt your holiday break. Do yourself a favor and set reasonable expectations for responses to clients (the engagement letter is a great place to start) and live by them.
Tell clients to contact you by e-mail, or text, or whatever method you prefer, if there’s an emergency. You need that downtime to recharge and be at your best, for all your clients and your family too. Set expectations early—again, the engagement letter is a great place to start—and repeat them often. And, it is worth saying again, stick to those expectations. If you tell them you won’t respond by e-mail while you’re out of the office, don’t. But give clients a contact who can get a message to you if it’s critical. Technology applications can do this for you and eliminate the need for a person to forward messages. Set an email auto response to remind clients and opposing counsel that you’re out of town. It can also give them contact information for emergencies.
With proper, proactive planning, we can protect ourselves, give our clients peace of mind, and have a peaceful and restful holiday with family and friends. Chandler & Moore Law wishes you all Happy Holidays!