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LPLC: Time for review

Every Issue

Cite as: Jan/Feb 2015 89 (1/2) LIJ, p.75

Implementing some targeted resolutions could help you avoid a claim in 2015.

Lawyers are typically time poor and consequently have difficulty taking the time to reflect on ways to improve their client service and management practices.

The start of the year is a good time for you and your firm to think about how you can consistently serve your clients better and reduce practice risk. ook at which bad habits you could put to rest and which firm policies need reviewing and rewriting.

Based on claims LPLC receives, here is a list of 20 resolutions which would be a great place to start.

Client selection and retainers

  • I will think about which clients experience and gut instinct tell me are trouble and, where possible, refer them elsewhere. I will adjust my client selection policies in accordance with the lessons learned.
  • I will meet and verify the identity of all new clients.
  • Under no circumstances will I dabble in areas outside my expertise. Clients will be referred to appropriate experts where necessary.
  • I will send an engagement letter or email properly documenting the scope of work I will and will not be doing for every matter.
  • I will write to any unrepresented parties making it clear I am not acting for them.
  • I will take instructions from third parties such as intermediaries and joint venture partners only with clear documented authorisation from the client. I will then have the client confirm the instructions.

Communicating with clients

  • I will document all important communications, especially instructions and advice. Signed instructions for important decisions are preferable.
  • I will be careful to document with great detail communications from difficult or emotional clients or those who choose not to accept my advice.
  • I will take the time to talk to my clients. This will enable me to better understand their circumstances and objectives, manage their expectations by keeping them updated about the progress of their matter and unexpected developments, and give them timely advice in language they understand.
  • I will promptly return phone calls and emails, even if to inform the client I am looking into the issue and will respond to them in a realistic timeframe.

Matter management

  • I will diarise all critical dates and have a system allowing others in the practice to see the reminders in my absence.
  • I will develop a realistic matter plan at the outset of each non-routine matter before providing the client with time and cost estimates.
  • I will not commit to unrealistic timeframes.
  • I will implement a policy regarding solicitor’s certificates, including a prohibition on issuing certificates to “walk-in” clients.
  • I will not advise on family law financial agreements unless I am a family law expert.
  • I will carefully review all wills I prepare against my instructions and check them with the client before execution.
  • I will use a file closing checklist to ensure all necessary lodgements have been attended to, trust monies returned and the matter is otherwise properly completed.

Other risk factors

  • I will bill the client periodically and talk to them before sending any large bills that could take them by surprise.
  • I will pursue clients for fees but carefully review the file before deciding to sue a client for unpaid fees.
  • I will seek help if I feel overwhelmed or unable to cope with professional or personal problems.

One more

There is one further resolution to consider: I will refer to LPLC’s risk management resources on its website more often.

The website contains information and tips on all of the topics listed above as well as extensive material on insurance, claims and other risk management issues.

Another useful resource to help you to implement your resolutions is LPLC’s list of policies for law firms. There is commentary of relevant risk management issues on many of the policies and not all firms need or have the complete suite.

You can also contact LPLC’s risk management team directly for information or to discuss any risk issues.

Implementing these resolutions and others applicable to your practice could help you avoid a claim this year. Of course, anyone who has ever made a new year’s resolution will know the hard part is sticking to it. Good luck.


This column is provided by the Legal Practitioners’ Liability Committee. For further information ph 9672 3800 or visit www.lplc.com.au.

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