- I will ensure I meet with my clients in person at least once: In most real estate practices the staff handle many aspects of the client’s matter. However, ultimate responsibility still lies with the supervising lawyer. Take the time to meet with the client in person to review the transaction and understand the client instructions, particularly with respect to the client’s intended uses of the property. Not every matter is straightforward, and you don’t want to have to be addressing a problem that was only noticed the day the deal is to be closed, or never noticed at all.
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You can still find yourself being sued for malpractice, even if you have done everything correctly. A well-documented file can help to explain what work was done or to justify an account and can be a lifesaver when it comes to defending a malpractice claim. A good paper trail can help show what work was done on a file long after your direct and specific memories of the file have faded. Here are some resolutions you can make to help you keep a better-documented file:
- I will document the important conversations and communications on my files: It is just
Clients will, understandably, get upset if they are treated badly or confronted with surprises. Make sure you appreciate how your words, actions, or inactions can annoy or even distress your clients. Here are some resolutions you can make to avoid doing the most common things lawyers do that annoy clients:
- I will promptly return phone calls: Unacknowledged or unreturned phone calls are some of the most common complaints about lawyers. To avoid these problems, set and control client expectations at the very start of the relationship. Establish a reasonable policy on how quickly calls will be returned (e.g., within
- I will make better use of checklists and reporting letters: Family law involves complex documents that deal with complicated issues involving emotional clients. There are many risks of errors by the lawyer, and misunderstandings by the client. LAWPRO’s new Domestic Contracts Matter Toolkit has checklists and forms that contain points and questions lawyers should systematically consider as they conduct the initial interview on a domestic contract matter and when they meet with the client to review and sign the document. And a final reporting letter detailing what you did and what advice you gave can be a lifesaver in
Fees disputes commonly lead to unpaid accounts, Law Society complaints and/or malpractice claims. For these reasons you should do your best to avoid fee disputes with your clients. Here are some simple resolutions that will help you accomplish this:
- I will get a sufficient retainer at the start of a matter: At the start of the matter ask for a retainer that is sufficient to do all of the initial work on the matter. Ask for a retainer that will cover all the work – asking for less gives the client unrealistic expectations about fees and means you are
With technology and a few tricks, you can increase your billable time by catching more of the actual time you spend on tasks. This gives you more time to bill, which will ultimately transfer to a better bottom line. Here are some of the best ways you can use technology to capture and bill more time:
- I will use electronic timesheets and enter my own time: Paper timesheets are error-prone and inefficient because they require double entry. The efficiency, extra speed, and greater accuracy of entering your own time on electronic timesheets make this resolution a no-brainer.
- I will
- I will fire my worst client: This client is the one that calls you almost every day, sends you hourly emails, never has enough for a retainer and bickers about paying your fees. When ending the retainer, make sure you comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct.
- I will book my vacation: Your body and mind need a vacation and some downtime. Grab your calendar and block off two weeks for a vacation. Make sure to coordinate with your spouse/significant other. Under no circumstances do you book anything during those two weeks. Schedule it now and make
- I will take the time to ensure the client understands my recommendations: Failing to effectively communicate with the client is just as much a claims pitfall in criminal law as in other areas. This could be because of the rushed nature of many “courthouse steps” conversations, or the fact that the lawyer’s years of experience on cases may obscure the fact that the client doesn’t fully understand the course of action the lawyer recommends. There is a risk that clients may later regret their choices and make a claim against the lawyer. To guard against this, be sure to
The life of a lawyer, especially a solo or small firm practitioner, is often stressful. Stress itself is not necessarily a bad thing; our body’s reaction to stress actually helps us to meet the sudden demands that we face as busy lawyers. However, too much stress too often becomes chronic stress, and takes its toll on our physical, mental and emotional well-being. That, in turn, affects our personal lives and our ability to serve our clients. The trick is to eliminate some of the stressors in life, and build our resiliency for the stresses we cannot change. Try to incorporate . . . [more]
The start of a new year is a time for self-reflection and self-improvement. Many of you will think about making changes in your personal and work lives. But while you all have good intentions, it can be difficult to break old habits, especially when you are running hard on the treadmill of a busy life and practice. So, to harness the good intentions you all have at this time of year we are going to post an excerpt every couple of days from our list of “New Year’s resolutions for a healthier practice and a new you” that . . . [more]