In holiday style, ALPS is pleased to present our attorney clients and followers with 25 tips for helping keep your firm in tiptop shape the whole year round.
1. Don’t wait ‘til Cyber Monday. Don’t catch a winter cold, and don’t let your computer catch one either. Make sure the antivirus software updates are current on all firm computers so you’re properly protected during all of your online holiday shopping.
2. The Turkey Helpline. Problems preparing the holiday bird? Call the helpline. Problems with knowing how to password protect and encrypt your smart phone or tablet? This must be done. Contact your in-house or third party IT support so you don’t get burned.
3. Untangling the lights. As you search your attic or basement for holiday decorations, remember to protect and organize your firm’s virtual storage space. Develop and follow a digital file retention and destruction policy so you don’t end up with a similar mess there.
4. Make a list and check it twice. If it’s not in writing, it didn’t happen. Before taking on a new matter, make certain that you and your client are in total agreement on the scope of representation and document it. Memories are short, even Santa’s. That’s why he has a list.
5. Up on the housetop. Santa has one job that he’s darn good at and you’re not. Don’t try to land on a rooftop and climb down a chimney unless you’re looking for trouble. In other words, stick to what you know. Many claims are the result of lawyers practicing in areas in which they had little-to-no experience.
6. Santa’s lap...top. If you’re travelling, always carry your laptop with you rather than checking it with your baggage because sensitive information (like your naughty and nice list) could end up missing. You may not think this happens, but it does.
7. Wrapping the gifts. When it’s time to wrap up a client matter, remember that their file belongs to them. Make sure your clients know what your file retention policy is and what options they have or you may end up with more loose ends than neatly wrapped packages years from now.
8. To Grandma’s house we go. If you need to check in with the office on your way, remember that your tablet or smart phone is as vulnerable as a computer. Today’s big, bad wolf may be gaining undetected and unauthorized access to your client files and contacts if your devices aren’t properly protected with security software and passwords.
9. Remember the reason for the season. Providing competent pro bono legal services is a wonderful way to bring a little holiday cheer to someone else and you may change a life. Just remember to treat all pro bono work as responsibly as you would any paid work. Even though you’re not charging for it, all of your work carries the same malpractice exposure.
10. Know “L.” According to the ABA, over 45% of reported claims in recent years were based on a substantive misstep such as a failure to know or properly apply the law. Don’t dabble unless you look forward to coal in your stocking.
11. No two snowflakes are alike. And with client expectations, no two clients are going to be alike either. Learn to listen. Try to determine each client’s unique legal needs as well as their desired outcomes so you can best manage their expectations. Always confirm those expectations in writing.
12. Don’t be like Scrooge. If a client becomes delinquent on their account, investigate early and either work out an alternative arrangement or get out if you can. Allowing someone’s past due balance to soar when they are already unable to pay, and then suing them for your fees, will result in a haunting tale of a malpractice counterclaim.
13. Bells will be ringing. While a wonderful sound this time of year, be careful not to have an alarm sound due to a shortfall in your trust account. Never allow the proceeds of a check to be disbursed prior to that check clearing.
14. Look out for the Grinch! Take the time to ask what can be learned from an experience with a “problem client” once the representation has ended. The failure to do so often means that another Grinch could be in your future.
15. Not a creature was stirring. To make certain no unwanted creatures are stirring in your office network, confirm that everyone in the office knows to never open an email or click on a link sent from an unknown source. This is a common way that networks are breached.
16. Let it snow. Clients tend to more readily pay bills that are sent on a regular basis with detail about each charge. There is a huge difference between “research - 5 hours” and “researched case law on inviting nuisance - 5 hours.” If you are not going to charge for something, tell them that too!
17. It’s a Wonderful Life. George Bailey saw what his town would have been like if he were never born. If you’re a solo, what would happen if you were no longer around? Name a successor attorney to ensure that your clients and their matters will be properly cared for should the unexpected happen, and then look for the launch of ALPS Attorney Match in the New Year.
18. New Year’s Resolution. Enjoy the holiday party season more by learning what metadata is and why it’s important. Then relish in knowing that you now have a legal leg up on most of the other attorneys in the room!
19. The ghost of files past. When it comes to computer files, “delete” is not what it seems. If you don’t want the recovery of deleted files rattling around late at night, you should electronically shred that data by using a program that will overwrite it thus making it unrecoverable.
20. The Little Drummer Boy. Bang the drum to get your message across. Make sure your colleagues are in step with the confidentiality rule. No files should be left accessible after hours. No one should use open public Wi-Fi networks or free email accounts like Gmail for professional purposes. And don’t talk about client matters in public places.
21. Setting out Santa’s cookies. For many families this is one of the last things done before the kids are tucked in. That little detail counts. Once a matter is closed don’t overlook the last important detail of properly preparing a file for storage. Use a file closing checklist to make certain that all the closing tasks are taken care of.
22. The night before CLE deadline. Fulfill your CLE requirements on time with ALPS online and on-demand CLE at alps.inreachce.com. The December 31st deadline for some states is fast approaching!
23. Giving thanks. You are being honored every time a client places a new matter in your competent hands. Honor them by sending a thank-you note at the conclusion of every matter and you may find that referrals and repeat work go up.
24. Give yourself a gift. Remember one of the best ways to serve your clients well and keep your practice thriving is to prioritize taking care of yourself. After all, gingerbread always tastes better when life is good.
25. Through the years... Over the past 25 years, ALPS has been honored to serve the legal community. May your holiday season be both merry and bright.
If you have questions about these risk management survival tips or any other burning questions about how to protect your practice, we invite you to contact our dedicated ALPS Risk Management Department at firstname.lastname@example.org. ALPS Property & Casualty Insurance Company is a leading provider of Lawyers' Professional Liability Insurance and is endorsed by more State Bar Associations than any other LPLI carrier. To learn more call: 1-800-367-2577. Website: www.alpsnet.com.