5 Risk Management Procedures Your Law Firm Needed Yesterday
Last year, I wrote an article on the importance of risk management in law firms, and why it is necessary to help firms run more smoothly, and, above all, avoid claims. But understanding that risk management is important is just a piece of the puzzle. Knowing when and how to implement these policies and procedures is how you can better mitigate these risks.
While there are countless policies and procedures your firm can and should put into place, from HIPAA laws to human resources, the following are five simple, yet effective procedures that will increase your firm’s efficiency, decrease your chances for claims, and improve your “curb appeal” to the insurance market.
Of all risk management policies and procedures, I believe this has to be one of the most important. Some communication issues to consider – who is going to primarily be communicating with the client? Will you be the point of contact or will it be someone else in your firm? How often do you touch base with your client (monthly, bi-weekly, etc.)? How will you communicate (email, phone, letter)? How quickly will you respond to your clients (within 24 hours, 48 hours?). What if you are in a trial – who will let your clients know you are out of the office? Are your procedures communicated to your clients upon engagement? It is extremely important to let your clients know what your firm’s policies are so that everyone is on the same page and expectations can be managed. Communication is KEY to keeping clients happy and can avoid potential problems in the future.
2. Engagement Procedures
All law firms, no matter the size, should have some sort of engagement procedure in place for new clients. Detailed steps are of the utmost importance so that you and your staff can all be on the same page. So, what should these include? Before you meet with a potential client, consider the following: Who is responsible for running conflict checks, if not yourself? How long should your initial consultation be? What about following up? Are you sending an engagement letter to the client if you decide to take the case? These steps may seem silly and common sense, but having these in place will ensure your office is running effectively and efficiently, you are keeping up with your ethical duties, and you will come across as more organized to your potential client. Make sure your steps are written down, all staff is aware and on board, and that everyone follows these guidelines.
3. Criteria for Taking a New Case
Do you have a procedure in place for determining whether or not you will take on a new client? You may think this should be as simple as your conflict check, but it needs to be more detailed than that. How can you ensure whether a case is within your skill and experience level? Considering whether you have time in your workload to take it on also needs to be addressed. You should know all of the information before agreeing to take on the new client. If you are unable to keep up with the deadlines and don’t have the experience for the case matter, you should decline to take the case.
How do you keep track of important dates and deadlines? Missing deadlines is one of the top bar complaints made by clients, and is the basis for many claims that come across my desk. Having a policy in place for someone to double-check your calendars for deadlines is extremely helpful. Also, having multiple back-up calendar systems can prevent something from falling through the cracks. It may seem excessive, but what happens if you’re only using email and then your computer crashes? How will you know what is scheduled for the week? Having multiple points of contact for your calendar (cellphone, paper copies, etc.) can provide a safety net to ensure nothing is missed.
5. Disengagement Procedures
Last, but not least – your law firm should have a policy in place for when your work is completed for a client. While you may think this is unnecessary, it’s important to inform your client that you have completed the representation. Again, this is about setting expectations from the get-go and allowing for open communication to make sure everyone is on the same page. By providing a closing (disengagement) letter, you are informing the client that the primary matter is now closed, while offering an opportunity for the client to say if they want you to represent them in an additional matter. This allows any misunderstandings to be addressed before they can become a problem.
While these policies may take time and effort to implement, it’s worth it in the long run. Remember, having them in place isn’t enough – they need to be followed by everyone in the firm to work effectively.
About the Author
Jaimee Williams-Caldwell is a professional liability insurance broker with Founders Professional, and is based out of the corporate headquarters in St. Petersburg, FL. Jaimee assists retail insurance agents across the country in securing professional liability insurance solutions for their law firm clients. Jaimee can be reached at Jaimee.Williams@founderspro.com