Times change and priorities evolve. Still, it’s likely that every law firm has a few bad habits that can hurt productivity today, even if they once worked fine.
Here are some of the most common bad habits that can harm a law practice and erode client relationships:
You still don’t use a docketing system, or yours is seriously outdated
According to the American Bar Association (ABA), substantive errors account for over 46 percent of all reported legal malpractice claims, and one of the most obvious substantive errors committed is the failure to know or ascertain a deadline. Even the most experienced attorneys can inadvertently miss a deadline, but adopting a docketing system can greatly reduce these time-related errors.
Effective docketing systems should help, not hinder, the practice of law. If the one you are using is not helping to efficiently track and manage deadlines, it might be time to look for a better platform.
Of course, implementation and adoption within a firm is key, since no matter what docketing system a law firm has in place, attorneys and staff members must actually use it to avert the risk of missing a deadline.
You don’t review the firm’s LPL insurance coverage on a regular basis
Lawyers professional liability (LPL) insurance is a must for law firms because it benefits everyone, including lawyers who think they will never face a legal malpractice claim. However, because an estimated four out of five attorneys will be sued for malpractice at some time during their careers, knowing the status of the firm’s LPL coverage is extremely important.
Some points to consider regarding legal malpractice insurance: is the policy up to date, does it provide everything the firm needs, are the practice areas identified still accurate and are there any potential coverage gaps that can be identified. Putting a certain individual (or team) in charge of the firm’s LPL coverage and renewal can help ensure that the policy is reviewed on a regular basis before a claim is made.
You allow your email inbox to “runneth over”
Many attorneys and legal staff members allow an overfilled email inbox to function as their makeshift to-do list. While in theory this system might work, the reality is that if the inbox is unlimited in size (and many are), delays in reading or responding to messages can result in a missed deadline, leading to increased risk of a malpractice lawsuit.
While “Inbox Zero” might be a worthy goal for every law firm, an alternative plan could be to limit the number of emails than can be kept in an inbox and encourage members of the legal team to check and respond to emails on a continual basis, with the goal of sorting your inbox every day. Members of the legal team to check and respond to emails on a continual basis, with the goal of sorting your inbox every day.
You fail to adequately secure your team’s mobile devices
Lawyers have an ethical obligation to maintain client confidentiality, but mobile devices can make this duty somewhat challenging in practice. Since many attorneys and staff members are carrying full access to their firm’s files via the smartphone stowed in their pocket, briefcase, or purse, care must be taken to ensure that client information remains secure. This can be done in a number of ways:
- Allowing the physical phone to be unlocked only with a passcode.
- Using a program to wipe data from mobile devices in the event that they are lost or stolen.
- Ensuring that smartphone data is encrypted.
Utilizing features like GPS tracking and secure file sharing can also help prevent sensitive information from being compromised.
Now, some good habits to form
While getting rid of bad habits is extremely important, lawyers and legal staff members should also be mindful of new, useful habits that are worth developing, such as:
Proofreading every document
There should always be time for a final, final check before submitting a document for review, no matter how rushed you are. Find resources around you that can help make this task simple.
Double-checking for task completion
Whether it was something you asked a colleague to do or something that was asked of you, confirm that it actually got done to the satisfaction of all before checking it off your list – don’t make assumptions.
Capture more billable hours
Are you maximizing your billable time? Resolve to not leave money on the table this year.
Put clients first
Your law firm will not survive without them, and a client-centered firm is a thriving one with plenty of business to show for it.
Everyone has those pesky bad habits that stick around long past when they are welcome, and law firms are no different. Recognizing the bad habits for what they are can be the first step to turning them into habits to be proud of.