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Missing litigation and other deadlines remains one of the leading causes of claims against law firms.  Such claims become malpractice cases in which often the only disputed issues are causation and the amount of damages, since breach of the standard of care will likely be established per se by missing the deadline.  A strong, effective calendaring system is thus one of the single most essential tools for reducing the risk and expense of claims (and their impact on insurance rates).

An important component of any effective calendar system is using a designated Docketing Clerk to oversee and run this critical component of the firm’s risk management efforts.

The benefits of using a Docketing Clerk are many:

  • It helps centralize the system, providing more consistent, regular, and accurate calendaring, as well as consistency in providing regular ticklers/reminders;
  • It identifies the person responsible for the overall system, including tracking its correct use by everyone at the firm, that all critical calendaring data is being regularly entered and backed up, and that the latest version of the firm’s calendaring software is in use;
  • It provides an in-house expert in calendar issues and calendaring software, someone who gets regular training in the field to keep abreast of litigation and other deadlines, calendaring best practices, and calendaring technology;
  • It provides all attorneys and staff with a go-to person for any calendar-related questions;
  • It frees up time of attorneys and staff that would otherwise be spent in calendaring functions for which the Docketing Clerk is made responsible;
  • It provides the firm with a person to provide regular training to attorneys and staff on calendaring generally, on the firm’s own calendar policies and procedures, and someone who can provide regular recommendations for improving the firm’s system;
  • It is a positive risk management factor to E&O carriers evaluating the firm for malpractice coverage. Since missed deadlines so often lead to claims, carriers generally want to know details of a firm’s calendaring system. Using a Docketing Clerk to oversee and run the system is a positive indicator that the firm is serious about having the most effective system possible to reduce its risk of claims.  Strong risk management policies and procedures reduce the incidence of claims and, thus, have a positive effect on premiums.

A firm’s calendar system is critically important to reducing the risk of claims.  It is an extremely detail-oriented system, involving a large number of matters and every lawyer and many staff members.  Dates and deadlines are constantly changing.  It is inherently susceptible to errors that can morph into potentially serious claims.  Having a designated, trained Docketing Clerk can greatly strengthen the firm’s system by centralizing responsibility and creating an in-house expert and resource, thereby reducing exposure for the firm.

By Daniel W. Hager | Corporate Counsel | Ahern Insurance Brokerage

A recognized expert in lawyers’ malpractice prevention and legal ethics, Daniel has provided consultations and risk management services to law firms for more than 20 years. Before joining AHERN, Dan was a partner at AV-rated Roeca Haas Hager LLP, where he defended lawyers against malpractice and other claims for more than 25 years.

At some point all lawyers ask themselves, “Why did I accept that client in the first place?” Effectively screening prospective clients for red flags is perhaps the single most important tool for avoiding later fee disputes, malpractice claims, and ethics complaints. Making the following considerations part of evaluating new clients and matters will greatly reduce your risk, and lead to a more satisfying, less aggravating practice.

Ethical Evaluation
Consider the following for new matters: Have all appropriate entities/ individuals been checked for conflicts? Did the conflicts report disclose any actual or potential conflicts? Is proposed joint representation possible with informed written consent? Might the representation require taking positions on issues that are contrary to the positions of other clients?

Compatibility With Practice And Resources
Ask yourself: Is this matter within your present areas of expertise? If not, can you educate yourself promptly enough to handle it competently? Will the matter require time or special logistical or technical capabilities you presently lack?

Professional Desirability
Consider whether the following factors are positive, negative, or neutral in deciding whether to accept the prospective client: relationship and experience with prior and current attorneys (changing lawyers on this matter; suits against lawyers; references checked); relationship with other professionals (references checked); personality (motivation for using your services; reasonableness of expectations; degree of patience; insistence on controlling details of the representation); background and behavior (alcohol or drug abuse; excessive gambling; history of personal legal problems); business background (employment history; experience in the business involved or similar businesses); whether there will be any relationship other than that of attorney-client (officer/director/partner in the client’s organization; business transaction with or investing in the client; helping the client find funding sources or third parties to do business with); risk of claims against you by third parties (claimed third party beneficiaries; government entities like the SEC/FDIC; risk of sanctions or malicious prosecution claims); and your gut reaction (comfortable with the prospective client; willingness to follow advice).

Financial Review
Consider: the range of fees and costs you expect the matter to generate; ability to pay those fees and costs; ability to post an adequate retainer/deposit; business reputation and financial status (from credit report, Best’s Reports, Dunn & Bradstreet, Standard & Poor’s); and outstanding judgments or bankruptcies. A simple Google search may provide a wealth of relevant information.

For existing clients, consider whether outstanding bills have been written off and the client’s history of accounts receivable.

Other financial considerations include: the fee arrangement (hourly/rates, contingency, fixed fee); need for retainer/ deposit (amount, one time, replenishing); client’s reaction to proposed payment arrangement; in contingency cases estimate the amount of likely recovery, the time to conclude the matter, and the likelihood of obtaining no monetary recovery); and whether the matter appears to be a one-time representation or may develop into an on-going relationship.

Regularly considering these factors (and requiring other lawyers in your firm to do the same) will reduce the risk of taking on clients who are the most likely to trigger fee disputes, malpractice claims, and ethics complaints. When in doubt, trust your gut reaction; if a prospective client gives you a bad feeling, err on the side caution by tactfully declining the case.

– By Daniel W. Hager, Corporate Counsel, AHERN Insurance Brokerage

To download a copy of this AHERN Update, please click here.

 

Klinedinst PC to Offer Initial Complimentary Legal Ethics Consultations

AHERN Insurance Brokerage is an industry leader in providing customized insurance solutions for law firms. On top of supplying extraordinary services to its clients, AHERN continuously looks for additional opportunities to add value to its clients’ practices.

AHERN has arranged for Klinedinst PC – a leader in the area of ethics, risk management, and the law of lawyering – to provide up to 30 minutes of free legal ethics consultation to its attorney and law firm clients in California, following a conflict of interest check. Klinedinst PC has offices in San Diego, Orange County, Los Angeles, Sacramento and Seattle.

The attorneys at Klinedinst have decades of experience in advising a wide range of practitioners, from solo and small firms to the largest law firms in the world. The members of the firm’s Legal Ethics and Law Firm Risk Management Team have a deep understanding of the challenges facing the profession and provide succinct, to-the-point guidance on these professional standards. Heather L. Rosing, Chair of the Team, serves as a legal adviser to the Rules Revision Commission of the State Bar of California, which is assisting in rewriting the Rules of Professional Conduct. Dave Majchrzak, Senior Counsel with the firm, is the Vice Chair of the San Diego County Bar Association’s Legal Ethics Committee, and formerly served on the State Bar’s Standing Committee on Professional Responsibility and Conduct.

No one understands better that ethics issues often arise on a moment’s notice and need to be dealt with promptly. Klinedinst has developed a reputation for its quick response to its professional clients.

AHERN is very excited to offer this valuable resource to its attorney and law firm clients in California.

Click here for more details about this new value-added offering.