2013 Legal Ethics Year in Review

 In Georgia State Bar Grievances

Part 2 – Year-end law firm housekeeping tips to close out 2013 and minimize risk in 2014.

In Part 1 of this article series, I shared six practice management recommendations based on some of the lessons learned by the 200+ attorneys who spoke with me in 2013 about their questions and problems. Learning from their experiences (especially the mistakes) may save you some hassle, and even prevent a potential Bar complaint or claim.

Conduct your own legal year-end close-out event!

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Between last minute trips to the mall, egg nog with family, and caroling out in the chill, the holiday season offers a lot of fun distractions from practicing law. After the final 2013 deals are closed, you’ll also want to spend some time assessing the ethical and operational health of your firm. Here are five year-end activities that will help you better prepare for a prosperous, ethical, and risk-minimized 2014:

  1. Send out letters. ‘Tis the season for holiday cards as well as disengagement and non-engagement letters. To avoid getting burned by an implied relationship, or a relationship that you needed to end earlier in the year, review your prospect and client files and issue appropriate letters. This is a great time to close out the files so you’ve got a clean list of active, viable clients going into 2014.
  2. Check case status. Especially for cases still under consideration, check the statutes and deadlines to make sure that you won’t miss anything while you’re on vacation. Also, reassess clients and cases for validity, payment history, etc. If a client situation haschanged for the worse, disengage or file a motion to withdraw. Remember that protection of the client’s interests is paramount, as embodied in the Rules of Professional Conduct.
  3. Conduct an operational audit. Assess your processes, people, and systems through a Practice Management Review. It’s like an annual wellness exam for your law firm. You can do it yourself, utilize the GA Bar’s Law Practice Management Program consultants, or hire a neutral third party like Chandler Law to conduct the audit.
  4. Rebid insurance. Don’t wait until your policy expires to be stuck without any errors & omissions coverage options. Review your current policy, including coverages and limitations. Are you specifically covered for data breach and cyber liability? For disciplinary matters? Is the amount of coverage sufficient for your case portfolio? If not, check out separate coverage immediately. Brokers can be very helpful in comparing policy features and coverage.
  5. Review office procedures with non-lawyer staff. We are expected to have reasonable policies in place, and need to monitor activity to avoid non-lawyer employees becoming your weakest link. Set up a meeting to discuss your policies and guidelines, especially as they relate to client communications and the unauthorized practice of law. Document questions for ongoing review and for new employee training. What you might learn from an open discussion with your staff could shock you!

All of this is better than seeing The Nutcracker again!

Proactive law practice management is the best policy to detect and deter potential problems. An ounce of year-end prevention is truly worth a pound of 2014 cure when it comes to the health of your law firm.

If you would like to discuss any of these areas further, or schedule a Practice Management Review, feel free to contact me. Happy Holidays!

Douglas Chandler

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