How to Avoid Problems in the Modern Day Law Practice
Chandler Law’s Top 10 Tips – Part II
Being involved in a professional liability issue can be one of the most traumatic experiences in an attorney’s career. In my CLE seminar on Risk Management, Legal Ethics, and Professional Liability, we cover many of the things you can do today to avoid these “Houston, we have a problem” situations.
As I mentioned in Part I of this article, these tips were derived from my actual experience defending attorneys against Georgia State Bar complaints and representing plaintiff-clients in professional liability cases.
I created these tips so that you can learn from the (sometimes very expensive) mistakes that others have already made.
The first 5 Tips deal with understanding the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct as well as your clients. Here are Tips 5 through 10, with some more detail around why you should keep these top-of-mind as you work with your clients and run your law business.
- Track everything. This includes documenting all events, to-dos and deadlines with a proper calendaring tool. Not only is this a good general business practice, but in the event of a problem this documentation will help confirm that you met your professional obligations. Be aware that most E&O policies require calendaring systems with backup functionality. Technology is great, but the solution may not be enough unless your data is adequately backed up and retrievable.
- Don’t try to please everyone. Most lawyers have an innate desire to help all potential clients who seek their legal advice. Beware of all legal, business and personal conflicts – yours and others. Give your potential, current and former client relationships a fiduciary “sniff test” to ensure that you are able to place their needs above all others. Practice management software can be helpful in performing conflict checks. When confronted with a potential conflict situation, consult the revised Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct 1.7 – 1.9, and the Comments to those Rules. If you are still confused, call the Ethics Hotline (1-800-682-9806) and/or seek an opinion from practice-focused counsel like Chandler Law, LLC.
- Report every incident and claim. Meaning to your E&O carrier, no matter how trivial or meritless, or risk being completely exposed. Some carriers say that merely reporting a potential claim will not affect premiums, while other carriers see the reporting of a claim or incident as being a material change in risk which may affect your future premiums. It really doesn’t matter though, as you will either have to report it now or report it later on your renewal application. Your carrier can also be a resource to provide valuable insight on methods to mitigate the risk of potential claims and grievances. Review your policy and pay particular attention to the time frame you have to report an incident or claim.
- When in doubt seek out professional advice. It’s your choice – 2 hours of upfront professional advice now, or potentially 2 or more years of time consuming litigation later. Which do you prefer? You’re only as good as your last verdict. Treat every case as if it is your first case. Never cut corners, no matter how trivial they may seem. Apathy, procrastination and laziness will only bring professional trouble, as many of my clients will attest.
- Admit you have a problem and take responsibility. This applies to your clients as well as your insurance carrier, but I recommend reporting to your carrier first and seeking guidance on disclosure. Don’t compromise your coverage by making improper disclosures. Playing ostrich by sticking your head in the sand and avoiding the inevitable will only increase your anxiety, your risk and your potential for exposure. It is better to take the hit now and move on with your career, rather than waiting and risking everything. Finally, blame shifting by pointing the finger at your secretary or associate always seems convenient, but you are the captain of the ship and ultimately responsible.
I hope you found these tips useful. If you have your own tips or additional thoughts, please share and I’ll be sure to give you credit in future articles.
Douglas V. Chandler