A lawyer’s checklist before going on vacation

 In Georgia State Bar Grievances, Legal Malpractice

It’s that time of year again: travel, turkey, and time off. As lawyers, we help our clients prepare for and deal with “worst case scenarios,” so let us be the first this season to throw a bunch of cold water on your happy family get-togethers… for a good cause, of course: your peace of mind. Before you go out of town, make sure you go through the following checklist, or something similar to ensure that you are meeting the requirements of the Civil Practice Act and applicable Rules of Professional Conduct.

  • Office

If you’re in a small building environment, make sure your thermostats and pipes are taken care of, so things don’t freeze or needlessly waste heat while you’re out. Make sure employees—and cleaning company personnel—know the alarm code, if they’ll be using the building while the office is technically closed. There is nothing worse than receiving an alarm call during the holidays.

  • Successor planning

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. Have you identified a successor for the firm, or on your malpractice insurance policy? Have you identified a backup, in the event that you’re just incapacitated for an extended period of time? This is especially important if you’re truly solo. Make sure that you start with your spouse and provide telephone numbers and passwords so that people, information, and files can be accessed. Many malpractice policies ask you to identify a successor counsel should something happen to you. Make sure that the successor knows they are a successor on your policy and make sure your law partners or spouse knows who you have identified as successor counsel. 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. A list of active clients/matters should be prepared as well so that your successor knows how to identify and communicate with clients. Your malpractice carrier or insurance agent should be one of those people on your plan to contact first. The carrier may be able to help provide some guidance.

  • Leaves of absence

For all active litigation matters, did you file a leave of absence with the court? 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 of civil procedure to make sure that you are in compliance.

  • Calendar checks

Along with the previous items, doing a quick check of all active litigation matters’ calendars, just to make sure something hasn’t been missed, is a good idea. If you have a dual calendar system—electronic or paper—make sure that those calendars sync up and that an event on one calendar has not been accidentally left off another calendar. If you discover that a deadline or event is coming up while you are out of town, ensure that it is rescheduled or someone from your office can cover it. It sounds elementary, but you would be surprised how many times these sort of things get overlooked. Don’t let a missed hearing turn into a malpractice claim or bar grievance.

  • Lines of communication with clients

The Bar Rules require you to effectively communicate with your clients. Part of that responsibility is letting them know when you are away from the practice of law, so you need to make sure that all clients know you’ll be away from the office. Tell them to contact you by e-mail, or text, or whatever method you prefer, if it’s truly an emergency. But it is imperative that we find balance in our lives and our work, so don’t let a needy client disrupt your holiday break… you need that downtime to recharge and be at your best, for all your clients. Set expectations early—the engagement letter is a great place to start—and repeat them often, especially to needy / high maintenance clients! And, it goes without saying, stick to those expectations. If you tell them you won’t respond by e-mail while you’re out of the office, don’t. If it’s truly an emergency, give them a contact while you’re out that they can speak to, who can get the message to you if it’s really that critical. Make sure you set up an auto email response with the pertinent contact information so that those who contact you are reminded you are out of town, and know how to contact you or your designee.

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 a Happy Holidays!

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