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Issue 55 | January 2019

LIANSWERS

This newsletter includes information to help lawyers reduce the likelihood of being sued for malpractice. The material presented is not intended to establish, report, or create the standard of care for lawyers. The articles do not represent a complete analysis of the topics presented, and readers should conduct their own appropriate legal research.
Care is absolute, prevention is ideal: Getting it right with client service

Follow these day-to-day procedures to establish and maintain your best client service in 2019:

  • Review LIANS' sample retainer agreements or engagement letters to establish your terms of engagement, and to clearly identify what you have been retained to do.
  • Communicate with your clients in a timely manner. Whether it’s returning a phone call or email, establish a policy where you or your staff return a client’s message within a certain period of time (eg within 24 hours, or by the end of the following business day). Review Law Office Management Professional Standard #2: Client Service
  • Avoid costly malpractice claims by completing a thorough conflicts search before opening a file. Search for conflicts involving the client and other relevant parties.
  • Don’t dabble in areas of law with which you are unfamiliar. Among others, corporate/commercial, tax, family, criminal and real estate law are complex and diverse – and you may make an error that will result in a claim. If necessary, consider retaining the services of someone who has the requisite knowledge in those areas, or simply refer the client to them directly.
  • For in-office appointments, keep to your scheduling and avoid making clients wait more than 20 minutes.
  • During meetings, don’t just talk. Rather, ask the client to outline their understanding of what you’ve discussed so you know that they understand what you’ve explained to them. Also during meetings, make eye contact and watch for visual cues and body language.
  • Give the client a realistic indication of how long the matter will take, and identify any possible events that would delay a resolution. Provide the client with a full picture of all costs and disbursements that will or might incur. And be honest – don’t quote a lower cost to please them. Review section 3.2 "Quality of Service", Nova Scotia Barristers’ Society, Code of Professional Conduct, Halifax: Nova Scotia Barristers' Society, 2012
  • Avoid missing deadlines – use a tickler system for limitations periods and time-sensitive tasks.
  • Answer all your client’s questions to their satisfaction and listen carefully to address any elements that your clients don’t understand or that could be another relevant issue you’ll need to advise upon. Obtain written confirmation of instructions and advice. Communication errors between lawyers and clients are a key driver of claims. Keep in mind that you have hundreds of files to remember, but your client may have only one – it could be far more difficult for you recollect what was said than it would be for them.
  • Immediately highlight for clients any unexpected changes that will change the process, timing, costs or outcome of a matter. This will ensure your client is aware of the change and why it took place. Confirm this advice in writing.
  • Send a final reporting letter at the end of every retainer to summarize the work that was done for the client. Outline the details of any documents or agreements, the outcome of the matter, as well as any obligations or continuing responsibilities of the client (visit LIANS' Sample letters page)