Effective file management provides the foundation for timely, valuable client service and appropriate management of client matters. Here are some resolutions to help you complete the critical steps in file management:
- I will complete a conflicts check before opening a file: Conflicts of interest can lead to ugly and expensive malpractice claims. The best time to catch and avoid a conflicts claim is during a thorough conflicts search before a file is opened. A thorough search looks for conflicts involving both the client(s) and others connected with a matter.
- I will open a file for every matter I handle: Doing “off-books” work not only bypasses firm administrative procedures and checks, it often leads to short-cuts and mistakes. Open a file for every matter you handle to make sure that the file is properly handled.
- I will use a tickler system for limitations periods and time sensitive tasks: Missed deadlines and procrastination are the second most common cause of malpractice claims. A formal tickler system that tracks critical deadlines and tasks is the best way to avoid missing deadlines.
- I will have signed retainer agreements or engagement letters in all my files: Start out on the right foot with a written retainer letter or agreement. It establishes your terms of engagement and should clearly identify who the client is and what you are retained to do.
- I will send a final reporting letter at the end of every retainer: A final reporting letter clearly signals the end of a retainer to a client. Along with a final account, it should summarize the work that was done for the client, including outlining the key terms of any documents or agreements, the outcome of the matter and any ongoing steps or obligations that the client has.
- I will not handle matters I am uncomfortable with: Dabblers are more likely to face a malpractice claim. If you are unsure or hesitant about handling the matter for any reason (e.g., unfamiliar with the area of law, a potential conflict exists, a matter for a relative or friend, or a demanding or difficult client), get appropriate help or refer it to another lawyer.
These resolutions were taken from "New Year's resolutions for a better practice and a new you" which can be found in the December edition of LAWPRO Magazine.