Does your fee agreement include a document retention policy?

Have you looked at your fee agreement lately? Does it include your document retention policy?

A clear and concise document retention policy will let your clients know how long they can expect their lawyer to keep their documents. If you do not inform your clients about your policy then you  may be stuck with maintaining client files for a long time.  Ethics Opinion 15-02 makes clear that clients are entitled to their file at the end of the representation. But, that does not necessarily mean that you have to keep all of your client files available indefinitely. The length of time that you should retain your clients files after the conclusion of the representation may vary based on the practice area.  You should also consult your malpractice insurance provider in case they have a proscribed length of time that you are required to keep client files to be covered.

If you  are not sure what your document retention policy should say, never fear! We have a sample available along with sample fee agreements and numerous other handy forms. Practice 2.0 also offers a free review of your fee agreement.

Words of Wisdom on Cybersecurity Management and Policies

When experts in the field are willing to share their expertise, who are we to argue?  We are excited, therefore, to pass on a great guide on these thorny issues from Sharon Nelson (Esq.) and John Simek of Sensei Enterprises – technology and cybersecurity gurus extraordinaire, national experts and founders of the company.

In this article they pose the following questions and provide expert guidance.  Can lawyers actually manage their technology (instead of it managing them)? Can firms create and enforce policies that provide a secure environment for their users and protect client data, rather than acting like computer usage and security if the “Wild Wild West,” where anything goes?

Buying, implementing, replacing, and securing technology are huge challenges – especially when you have billable work to do. And yet, technology (and the policies that govern its usage) is the most important part of a law firm today – at least after the carbon-based units!

Read their article on Technology/Cybersecurity Management & Policies; and remember, Practice 2.0 is a State Bar of Arizona member benefit.  Call us at 602-340-7332 for quick help by phone or to book a longer consultation by phone or in person.

How’s that conflict checking system working?

Checking for conflicts is like paying taxes – sort of painful, but necessary.  Every lawyer has their own method for checking for conflicts – some use a manual system, some have a digital system, some use office automation.  Perhaps your practice management software has a conflict-checking function; maybe you use a spreadsheet or some stand-alone product – maybe you are old school and use index cards.

Unlike mid- or large firm lawyers, who may have trained staff to conduct conflict checks at predetermined intervals, for most solo/small firm lawyers, when it comes to conflict checking the buck stops with the lawyer.  Having a reliable system into which to enter names of parties, involved individuals or business entities, opposing counsel, actual and potential witnesses, etc. is only half the battle.  The other part, and possibly the more painful part, is actually doing the conflict check at the outset and then continually during the representation as the need presents itself.

When is that, exactly?  Well, you know that you are going to check for conflicts (actual and potential) before getting confidential information from a potential new client.  You’ll be checking for conflicts (at a minimum) with the client, their business or employer, individuals involved in the legal issue with which they are presenting  you including the potential opposing party, their business or employer,  and their lawyer if they have one. How often after that should you be checking for conflicts?  As with most things legal, the answer is “it depends,” and there is no way to set out the parameters without knowing more about the substantive area of law, the nature of the claim and other details.

General guideline: you should check for conflicts whenever a new individual, business entity or other party is added to the case.  If a new witness or potential witness is identified, recheck for conflicts.  Is that all?  Well, maybe.  You know your case best and you will have to be alert for actions or occurrences in the case that could cause a conflict to arise, or a potential conflict to become an actual conflict.  And finally, the Rules of Professional Conduct remind us that our own personal interests may create a conflict.

Bottom line:  You need a system that works well for you and that you diligently use.  It has to be one you are comfortable with, that is relatively simple to use and has to be part of your regular routine.  The greatest conflict checking system in the world won’t work unless you use it correctly and diligently.

Choosing Practice Management Software

Using practice management software is one of the first steps to keeping your law practice in order.  You can use practice management software for a variety of functions. Before selecting one, think about the features you need. What will you be using it for? You can use it for all or some of these tasks, the important thing is to be consistent:

  • Contact management
  • Document management
  • Document automation
  • Timekeeping
  • Billing
  • Calendaring
  • Rules based calendaring
  • Payment processing
  • Client portal
  • Email management
  • Trust accounting

Some practice management software even integrates with popular programs like Office 360, QuickBooks, and others.

You will also need to consider the price. Practice management software that is cloud based is usually billed at a per user per month price. Sometimes you can receive a discount by virtue of your membership in the State Bar of Arizona and usually staff accounts are cheaper than lawyer accounts. A discount may also be available for paying in advance.

You will also need to consider security. Who owns your data? What level of security does the practice management tool provide?

Many practice management software options include a free trial.  This will enable to you to determine whether the software is easy to use, and whether you will need training.

Selecting a practice management software may be a tough decision.  Practice 2.0 has created a checklist to help you make the choice.  Once you find a practice management software and begin to regularly use and rely on it, you will enjoy the benefits of organization and keeping all of the activities involved in running your law firm in one centralized place.

Practice 2.0 offers free in person and telephonic consultations.  We will help you find a practice management tool that will work for your firm.  Feel free to contact us with questions about this or any other topic related to running your practice.

Securing your snail mail

Did you know that the U.S. Postal Service now offers a service called Informed Delivery? Do you still get bills, bank statements or other “snail mail” in hard copy by delivery This service offers you a digital image of all regular mail (not magazines or catalogues) that is scheduled for delivery to your address each day.  Why do you care?  If something containing confidential or personal information is missing, you will know as soon as you get the mail each day.

Wouldn’t it be better to know that your credit card bill, your bank statement or other sensitive information has been mis-delivered, or worse stolen, that day rather than wondering weeks later whether you’d actually received it?

Check out Informed Delivery here.

New guidance on cybersecurity

There’s been little official guidance on ethics and cybersecurity until now.  This week the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility issued Formal Opinion 477 providing guidance on “securing communication of protected client information.”  Needless to say, there are no bright line rules, but the reality that data breaches are no longer an “if” but “when” puts this issue front and center.  Happily, this ethics opinion confirms the general advice Practice 2.0 has been providing on this issue.  Does that sound a little self-congratulatory?  Perhaps, but we’ve earned it.

You can read the opinion for yourself, but here are the highlights:

  • Lawyers must understand the “benefits and risks associated with relevant technology” (see the comment to ER 1.1)
  • Lawyers must be mindful that the duty of confidentiality extends to electronic communications and communication of client information
  • When determining whether additional safeguards are needed, there are numerous factors to consider by way of a cost-benefit analysis – several factors are enumerated in the opinion.

Lawyers need to understand the nature of the threat, consider the sensitivity of a client’s information and assess the risk to the lawyer and the client.  Lawyers are expected to exercise due diligence in selecting technology vendors and products and use reasonable electronic security measures.  In short, if you have been using free (unsecured) Wi-Fi at your favorite coffee shop or elsewhere, those days are over.  If you have been using free file-sharing solutions that do not encrypt data “at rest,” it’s time to move on to a more secure solution.

There’s lots more to the opinion, and you can read it at here.  You can also call the Practice 2.0 advice line at 602-340-7332 to ask questions, or book a consultation with one of the Practice Management Advisor attorneys to discuss cybersecurity or other practice management issues.

Spring cleaning?

Actually, spring is almost over.  But that’s no excuse to avoid the traditional cleaning season.  As it pertains to your law practice, what does spring cleaning mean?  It could be a number of things, but one issue that’s been coming up is dusting off old fee agreements.

When was the last time you read through your fee agreement, in full, with an eye toward how a client might read it?  You may have started off with a standard fee agreement from a previous practice,  your old firm, or even from the Practice 2.0 forms page.  Over time, you’ve probably tweaked it a bit, added some language you thought would be useful or deleted some that you thought you no longer needed.  It’s possible that through that process you’ve incorporated some inconsistent terms, or the terms confusing, or forgot to edit language to comply with a recent rule change.

Use this spring cleaning season to clean up your fee agreement.  Does it have all of the terms you want or need?  Does it clearly communicate the rate and basis of your fee, and the scope of representation?  Does it include a provision about file retention?  Keeping client information (including files) electronically?  A caution to clients not to use their work email to communicate with you about a case?  Information about your succession plan?  These are only a few of the provisions your fee agreement should have . . . read through yours to make sure it communicates to clients the information they should (or must) have.

Now you have a fresh, new fee agreement.  Did you know that Practice 2.0 will review your fee agreement and provide comments and suggestions to you?  Did you know that this is a free service, a benefit of your membership in the State Bar?  Contact Practice 2.0 at 602-340-7332, to access this and other helpful practice management services.

Welcome to ReadySetPracticeAZ

Welcome to our brand new blog.  We will be blogging about a variety of practice management issues.  We assist lawyers in all phases of their practice – from starting a practice, to growing it, to ultimately closing it down.  We’ll be discussing topics including technology and cybersecurity, useful practice tools and resources, marketing, social media and other tips for making your professional life effective and efficient.  We may even cross over into some work-life balance issues from time to time.

So, what is Practice 2.0?  Well, we are a benefit of membership in the State Bar of Arizona. Check us out on the State Bar’s website at http://www.azbar.org/professionaldevelopment/practice20.  We offer two confidential advice lines, one for practice management and the other for trust account management; we also offer phone or in-person consultations.   We have a mentor program – a great resource if you are just starting our or if you are changing practice settings or areas.

We’ll be back soon.  In the meantime, if you need practice management or law office management advice, you can always reach us at 602-340-7332.

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