Category: Client relations

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Where are your go to resources?

JEL23652-Blackford, Sheila P3 (2)   by Sheila Blackford   ©2012

What is the best trust accounting software I should adopt for my firm?
When should I run a conflicts search?
How long I should keep closed client files – if my client has a copy already?
Where should I open my office to get more business?
Which networking events may be helpful to me as a new attorney?
Who can help me figure out what I need to do to open my own office?

These are all questions that get asked over and over by lawyers. The big question behind all of them is one: where are your go to resources? Today, I’d like to tell you about where you can find a variety of valuable of go to resources.

Ask a Practice Management Advisor
I work for the Oregon State Bar Professional Liability Fund as a practice management advisor. If you are an Oregon lawyer or member of an Oregon lawyer’s firm, then you know the PLF is the mandatory malpractice insurance carrier for the basic coverage required of Oregon lawyers in private practice. If you are not an Oregon attorney, you may have a practice management advisor associated with your state bar association. To see a list of practice management advisors in North American, see here ABA Law Practice Management Section Practice Management Advisors/State & Local Bar Outreach Committee. Call your practice management advisor! We are a resource to getting you the answers to your questions.

Practice Aids & Forms
What you may not realize is that the PLF has a huge variety of free practice aids and forms that can be downloaded from www.osbplf.org. See Loss Prevention on the menu and select the last item, practice aids and forms. Download all of them in Word or WordPerfect and you can customize them. You find a variety of checklists to help you to tackle various substantive practice areas – adoptions to workers’ compensation– plus topics that cut across all practice areas like conflicts of interest, calendaring and docketing, engagement, nonengagement, disengagement, file management, opening your law office, closing your law office, trust accounting, and technology. Lawyers are surprised by the number of practice aids and forms that are available.

Publications
You want to open your own law office? The PLF has free guides which you can download in PDF format from the PLF website, on the menu under Loss Prevention, select Books from the PLF: A Guide to Setting Up & Running Your Law Office, A Guide to Setting Up & Managing Your Lawyer Trust Account, Planning Ahead: A Guide to Protecting Your Clients’ Interests in the Event of Your Disability or Death, and Oregon Statutory Time Limitations Handbook.

Books from the OSB: BarBooks is a resource you simply must take advantage of because you are entitled to free access to excellent books specific to your desired practice area, such as the helpful five volume Advising Oregon Businesses. If you want to look at what publications the OSB offers, see the Legal Publications Catalog. Don’t overlook valuable publications that are associated with CLEs.

CLE Seminars
You want to learn about practicing in different areas?
CLEs from the PLF:You can find CLEs geared to avoiding malpractice traps in family law or how to set up a conflict system or handling your trust account or improving your understanding of financial considerations about managing your law office plus a great variety of other practice management at the PLF. See PLF website then on menu under Loss Prevention select CLE to review on-demand programs, access programs available on DVD of a CLE you might have missed and download the CLE’s handouts, or learn about an upcoming in-person CLE.

CLEs from the OSB:You can find CLEs specific to your desired practice area plus other CLEs – find out what CLEs are available in a variety of formats, QuickCalls, CLE On Demand learn about upcoming live seminars you can attend in person or by webinar by accessing the OSB CLE and Seminars catalog at OSBCLE.org.

CLEs from the Oregon Law Institute (OLI):You can find CLE offerings that fit your needs at OLI. Don’t overlook the OLI resources, whether in person seminars, webinars, MP3 courses, or review their product catalog.

American Bar Law Practice Management Section CLEs: The LPM Section offers CLEs produced by the American Law Institute (ALI). You do not have to be a member of the ABA LPM Section, though you may want to join. See information about the LPM CLEs here.

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New Amendments to Oregon Rules of Professional Conduct

JEL23652-Blackford, Sheila P3 (2)   by Sheila Blackford   ©2010   I just learned that the Oregon Supreme Court approved changes to Oregon RPC 1.5 and 1.15-1 regarding earned on receipt fees and RPC 3.3 relating to a lawyer’s responsibilities when a client or witness offers false evidence.

Let me say that “Earned on Receipt” fees have been troubling legal fees because many lawyers want to designate them as “Nonrefundable.” If you didn’t do the work bargained for, then to hang onto the fee would be collecting a ‘clearly excessive fee,” putting you in violation of Rule 1.5. Now the rule has been amended and if you charge earned on receipt fees you will want to review this amendment so that you can comply:
Rule 1.5 Fees

“…(c) A lawyer shall not enter into an arrangement for, charge or collect:
(1) any fee in a domestic relations matter, the payment or amount of which is contingent upon the securing of a divorce or upon the amount of spousal or child support or a property settlement;
(2) a contingent fee for representing a defendant in a criminal case;
(3) a fee denominated as “earned on receipt,” “nonrefundable” or in similar terms unless it is pursuant to a written agreement signed by the client which explains that:
(i) the funds will not be deposited into the lawyer trust account, and
(ii) the client may discharge the lawyer at any time and in that event may be entitled to a refund of all or part of the fee if the services for which the fee was paid are not completed.”

Make certain that you following the guidelines and have a written agreement signed by your client that properly explains this type of fee arrangement. Be prudent: use the actual language of the rule in your written agreement.

Rule 1.15-1 Safekeeping Property
“…(c) A lawyer shall deposit into a lawyer trust account legal fees and expenses that have been paid in advance, to be withdrawn by the lawyer only as fees are earned or expenses incurred, unless the fee is denominated as “earned on receipt,” “nonrefundable” or similar terms and complies with Rule 1.5(c) (3).

Make certain that you put fees that are designated “earned on receipt,” or “nonrefundanble” or other similar terms into your general account – not into your trust account.

Rule 3.3 Candor Toward the Tribunal
“(a) A lawyer shall not knowingly:
(1) make a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal or fail to correct a false statement of material fact or law previously made to the tribunal by the lawyer;
(2) fail to disclose to the tribunal legal authority in the controlling jurisdiction known to the lawyer to be directly adverse to the position of the client and not disclosed by opposing counsel;
(3) offer evidence that the lawyer knows to be false. If a lawyer, the lawyer’s client, or a witness called by the lawyer, has offered material evidence and the lawyer comes to know of its falsity, the lawyer shall take reasonable remedial measures, including if [necessary] permitted, disclosure to the tribunal. A lawyer may refuse to offer evidence, other than the testimony of a defendant in a criminal matter, that the lawyer reasonably believes is false;
(4) conceal or fail to disclose to a tribunal that which the lawyer is required by law to reveal; or
(5) engage in other illegal conduct or conduct contrary to these Rules.
(b) A lawyer who represents a client in an adjudicative proceeding and who knows that a person intends to engage, is engaging or has engaged in criminal or fraudulent conduct related to the proceeding shall take reasonable remedial measures, including, if [ necessary ] permitted, disclosure to the tribunal.
(c) The duties stated in paragraphs (a) and (b) continue to the conclusion of the proceeding, [unless compliance ] but in no event require[s] disclosure of information otherwise protected by Rule 1.6.
(d) In an ex parte proceeding, a lawyer shall inform the tribunal of all material facts known to the lawyer that will enable the tribunal to make an informed decision, whether or not the facts are adverse. ”

Be careful when reading the Rules. When in doubt, be sure to call the Oregon State Bar General Counsel, Helen Hierschbiel for help with interpreting the application of our Rules to your situation and for any ethics advice at extension # 361 at the OSB (503) 620-0222 or toll free in Oregon at 1-(800)-452-8260. If you can’t reach Helen, you can call Chris Mullmann, Assistant General General Counsel and Client Assistance Officer Manager at extension # 392.

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Managing Your Client’s Expectations

JEL23652-Blackford, Sheila P3 (2)    by Sheila Blackford   ©2010   For many clients, the decision to get a lawyer is a scary one. How much will it cost me? When do I have to pay? Will the lawyer be able to help me? What will the lawyer do to fix my problem? How long will this take? All questions that run through your client’s mind but may not be asked for a combination of reasons you might find surprising including, because your client is not thinking clearly, is nervous to be in your office, or is afraid you won’t want to help if you are asked these questions.

I spoke to one lawyer who shared that his elderly client would listen thoughtfully, stroking his chin and say, “hmmm, that’s a good point.” The gentleman turned out to have dementia and didn’t understand what the lawyer was talking about but wanted to appear to understand to be polite. Hopefully, your client does not suffer from dementia and will understand if you explain things simply and slowly. Here are some tips for managing your client’s expections.

Start with clarity up front. Discuss key things at the initial client meeting:
1. the client’s objective in getting a lawyer for the situation;
2. the legal process you will need to go through;
3. the range of possible outcomes with any risks affecting success;
4. the information that still needs to be gathered;
5. the method of charging and billing for your services; and
6. your realistic estimate of how long the process and how much the legal fees and costs based upon the present facts as you understand them.

Clarity up front. Use a written fee agreement that includes the scope of representation signed by you and your client.
Your client will always be in favor of being well informed. Many lawyers think that their client does not want to have a multi-page written fee agreement that includes the scope of representation, the procedure and frequency of communication, along with the procedure and frequency of billing statements and payment.

Communication goes both ways. Be sure to include the responsibilities of the client to inform the lawyer promptly about new facts, new contact information, or upcoming periods of unavailability. Otherwise you may find your client’s phone has been changed with no new number or discover your client’s plan to visit family in another country is an unwelcome 11th hour discovery as you prepare for an imminent deposition, court appearance or decision to be made.

Clarity up front. Use a scope of representation letter signed by you and your client if not incorporated into your fee agreement.
This is for your protection against misunderstandings which can lead to a very poor lawyer-client relationship, resulting in an ethics complaint or malpractice claim.

Clarity throughout your representation. Provide adequate written communication about what is happening and how it affects the outcome: result, time, and cost.
Status updates are woefully underutilized and easy to provide. The number one complaint clients have about their lawyers is a lack of communication: I don’t know what’s going on with my case! This is a complaint that is avoidable. Have form letter status updates that you can quickly customize to provide personal information. For example, personal injury cases require request for medical records. A status update letter can inform the client of which records have been received and which are still necessary. When clients find out which medical provided hasn’t responded or provided requested records, these clients frequently call to express how important it is to them, prompting the office to get the records out by the end of the day to avoid losing a patient.

Managing your client’s expectations requires communicating needed information at the beginning and throughout representation. It also requires understanding that if you provide your client with a range of time for returning phone calls or delivering documents, your client will focus on the earliest time. The payment should come in two or four days. Anyone who has ever called the pediatrician worried about a sick child, upon being told the doctor will call you right back usually waited by the phone.

It is human nature to focus intently on our problems and needs and believe that those we pay to help us with these problems do too. We hear and remember what we wanted to hear. If you start with these premises, you will naturally know how to respond to your client.

It is better to under promise and over perform.
A good adage to adopt as your client-service orientation. Tell your client you will call back by 5 p.m. and plan to call by 4 p.m.; that you will have the will done by next Friday and plan to have it done by Wednesday. If something comes up delaying you, you will still meet the deadline given to your client. Your client will be very pleased. No client ever complained about a lawyer who called back sooner or who delivered work before deadlines. Happy clients have their expectations met. By managing your client’s expectations, you will find them easier to meet.