The start of a new year is the perfect time to reflect on the wins and losses of the last year and think about how to make this year even better. Unfortunately, this year some lawyers will face a claim of legal malpractice even when no error has been made. But with the right steps, you can minimize your risk of being one of them.
21 Tips to Reduce Your Risk of Claims in 2021 and Beyond
- Be consistent with your use of engagement letters., Always note the scope of the engagement, the identities of all represented parties and the agreed fee arrangement.
- Send a detailed disengagement letter if you withdraw from a case. Include the reason for the termination, notice of fees due and dates of upcoming deadlines or procedural requirements for successor counsel.
- Document your file for a proper written record of the agreed plan for representation and all key decisions via letters, email and detailed billing statements to help avoid a potential he said/she said situation.
- Minimize your risk of a conflict of interest. Know the rules in your jurisdiction, institute strong conflict check procedures, document engagements and disclosures and avoid the appearance of adverse interest.
- Require clients to complete a screening questionnaire to gauge their motivation, expectations for the representation and history with the matter to avoid taking on undesirable clients or matters.
- Reduce your risk of a fee suit by being proactive with the use of retainers, engagement letters that state fee terms, realistic budgets, prompt billing and regular communication.
- Avoid negotiating fee discounts and settlements on past-due bills without ensuring the client has been made aware of his right to representation in the negotiations.
- Consider delaying formal proceedings over unpaid fees until after the applicable statute of limitations for a malpractice claim have expired to avoid a retaliatory cross-complaint.
- Act when you discover an error and don’t hide or conceal mistakes. Inform the client and your insurer early to achieve the best chance at repairing the situation.
- Pay attention to the risks of corporate defense matters. Be proactive about responsive communication, detailed documentation, courteous interactions and transparent billing.
- Recognize the risks in areas such as family law. Manage client expectations, always use client letters, ensure ongoing communication and keep proper documentation.
- Avoid dabbling in estate, probate and trust matters if you’re not an expert to avoid claims from unhappy beneficiaries.
- Be careful offering legal advice informally to friends and family and make use of appropriate documentation, conflict waivers and due-diligence reviews to avoid problems.
- Stay mindful of your legal ethics on social media. Don’t brag about results obtained on behalf of clients, correct endorsements and recommendations that aren’t accurate and avoid soliciting clients through messages.
- Avoid social media contact with represented parties. Be sure not to send friend, follow or connect requests to opposing clients, and err on the side of caution with jurors and other unrepresented parties.
- Protect your attorney-client email communications. Use appropriate file encryption technologies to reduce the risk of exposure of sensitive information.
- Avoid creating unintended confidentiality through your website contact form by avoiding open-ended inquiries. State that confidential information should not be provided until after a conflict check and agreement to representation.
- Minimize your computer data risk with secure passwords. Keep pace with evolving cyber risks by using unique passwords with secure reset options and two-factor authentication.
- Stay professional when texting with clients. Preserve messages, ensure confidentiality and maintain a professional tone.
- Know the risks of fake clients and counterfeit check scams. Be cautious of new remote clients with urgent requests and always verify any check has cleared with a bank before initiating a transfer.
- Call to confirm before sending a wire transfer for a client. Double-check wire instructions, account numbers, dollar amounts and contact info to safeguard against hackers and scams.
This year, protect your law firm and your career by taking some simple steps in your daily activities to reduce your risk of claims.
Information provided by Lockton Affinity is not intended as legal advice.