My partner Matthew Conroy and I recently presented a continuing legal education seminar to lawyers on risk management for attorneys. That seminar was broadcast live and is available online at lawline.com. During the seminar, we covered many topics. For part one of this blog, we will address:
•Risk management strategies to avoid claims for legal malpractice; and
•Understanding how client fee disputes arise and how to manage them.
In almost every matter for which you represent a client, you must have a written engagement or retainer agreement. In most states, written engagement agreements are required by law or ethical rule, because fee disputes, malpractice claims, and grievances invariably arise when the scope of services to be rendered by the attorney, as well as the fee arrangement, are not clearly defined.
In terms of risk management and avoidance of fee disputes, as well as good practice management, it is important to maintain accurate and contemporaneous time records for work being performed on behalf of clients. In my firm, we maintain time records for every particular type of matter that we handle, including contingency, flat fee, and hourly fee matters. This helps clients gain an understanding of what services were performed, documents, communications and their time frames, and often amply demonstrates to clients, courts and tribunals the level, extent and timeliness of the work the attorney performed.
Another critical activity that avoids fee disputes, grievances and client problems is client communication and documentation. One of the biggest complaints clients voice about lawyers is that clients don’t hear from their lawyers with updates, or don’t get return phone calls or emails. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to get back to your client when they reach out to you, even if it’s just to tell them you received their message and that you’ll get back to them within a certain time frame. When clients don’t get a response from their attorney, they get frustrated and angry, which can lead to a refusal to pay bills, getting fired and/or getting grieved.
Email is an invaluable tool to assist lawyers in communicating with clients, without having to invest a substantial amount of time, because quite often you can just forward your client an email to keep them up to date. The more you communicate via email, the more you have a documented record of what it is you did or didn’t do in connection with your representation. So document, document, document.
Contact me today with questions or comments.
Evan S. Schwartz
Founder of Schwartz, Conroy & Hack