Benjamin Franklin is famous for many things including his musing that “an ounce of prevention” is worth a “pound of cure.” While that truism applies to many aspects of life, it represents real-world reality when it comes to avoiding legal malpractice. When a few simple steps can avoid disaster, attorneys may want to spend a few “pennies” of their time and consider these steps.
“Meet or Beat” deadlines
Deadlines are not “suggestions” when it comes to law. Have in place a robust calendaring system and make sure your office is in compliance. This is one place where redundancy is not a bad thing.
Remember that there are many good reasons not to take cases. The potential case may not involve an area of law with which you are familiar. You may not have adequate time or resources to properly devote to the case. Your history with the other parties or their counsel may not suggest the case as a good fit. Trust your instincts here. If you have meaningful reservations about taking the case, turn it down no matter how profitable it could prove to be.
Respect Your Clients
Do not ignore your client. Return your client’s phone calls. Keep the client informed. You work hard. Frequent communication with your client shows them that. They will be less likely to sue if they know you worked diligently on their behalf.
Document Your Work
More information is better than less. If you do not document your work, a client has cause to challenge the work you performed. Proper documentation also can diffuse the “he said, she said” trap attorneys often find themselves embroiled in after something has gone wrong.
Avoid Conflicts of Interest
Ensure that you have a comprehensive conflicts-check procedure. Failure to identify conflicts ahead of time can create unnecessary complexity. The rules allow waiver of many conflicts when they will not impact the representation.
Take Care of Yourself
Nothing can invite more disaster upon an attorney than substance abuse and/or debilitating stress. If either of these conditions apply to you, there are plenty of ways to get help-whether from friends, family members, or health care providers. You owe it to yourself, your family and your clients to address these issues. The Louisiana State Bar Association has created a Judges and Lawyers Assistance Program (JLAP) to help you through these issues. http://louisianajlap.com/
Thorough Research and Investigation
It’s not easy getting it right so spend the time it takes. Consult with others when you are not sure. Citing law that is no longer applicable is not only embarrassing but can affect your credibility. Judges remember lawyers who submit pleadings with improper or inadequate research.
Pursuing Unpaid Fees
Fully consider the ramifications when pursuing unpaid fees. Try to work it out. Clients have been known to find themselves suddenly dissatisfied with their representation when sued for an unpaid legal bill.
Benjamin Franklin is also known for his image plastered across the $100 bill. Putting in place reasonable procedures may keep more of them in your pocket.
Gracella Simmons’ practice includes defense of attorneys and law firms when professional liability claims are made and defense of attorneys in response to complaints made to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel.