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Can you imagine a small retail store having no idea as to the nature and scope of their inventory? It certainly would not make for a very effective or efficient business model.
The legal profession is no different. All too often, the Law Society’s Practice Management lawyers come across ineffective file and practice management systems that hinder a lawyer’s provision of quality legal services. In particular, we often see lawyers not having a good grasp on the total number of active files or knowing the status of each file.
When a lawyer is referred to the Law Society’s Practice Review Committee by our Conduct Committee, this usually means that the lawyer is subject to a number of client service complaints that have reached the critical point.
One of the key tools or techniques recommended is a Master Client File List. This list provides the following key pieces of information about each active file:
Example Master Client File List
|File No.||Client Name||Matter||Last Action Step Taken||Next Action Step to be Taken||Diarization Date|
|5155||Smith||MVA||December 1/15 – email to client advising offer from OC – $ 50,000 all inclusive/expires December 20, 2015.||Waiting for Instructions from Client||December 15, 2015|
The first three columns of the table are self explanatory, but where the fourth and fifth columns refer to “Action Step”, this is not limited to steps in the litigation process, but describes “action” in the more general sense of what has been done on the file and what needs to be done next.
In addition to, or in lieu of this list, you may want to maintain and regularly update a File Summary for all your active files. With civil litigation practices, a File Summary is basically a running synopsis of what has transpired on each client file.
Example File Summary
December 1, 2015 – File opened. Client paid $ 5,000 retainer and signed retainer agreement.
December 5, 2015 – Correspondence sent to Opposing Counsel re: custody proposal.
December 5, 2015 – Client sent cc of Corr. to OC via email.
December 5, 2015 – Diarize file for 2 weeks for FU OC.
December 15, 2015 – Client phoned and asked for update.
December 19, 2015 – Receipt of Corr. from OC.
December 23, 2015 – Review of Corr. from OC.
I know many lawyers use the software Amicus Attorney to create this summary. However, note that the above example summary looks much like what would routinely appear on a Statement of Account. If you currently use PC Law or ESI Law, then this capability is already available to you.
You and your legal assistant can work out a best practice to enter the details as work is done or the status of your active files change.
Benefits of using a Master Client File List and/or a File Summary include
- At any given time, clients can easily be told the current status of their file.
- This information can be given out by a legal assistant or secretary so you can make the best use of your valuable time.
- Setting out the “Last Step Taken” and the “Next Step to be Taken” with a “Diarization Date”, there is a check and balance in place so that files do not get lost.
- Knowing how many active files you currently have, and what their status is, can help you more effectively manage your time and practice and aid in assessing if you have the capacity to take on new files.
- Should you be unexpectedly away from the office (illness or personal emergency), it will be easier for another lawyer to get up to speed with your files.
- Having a Statement of Account with details of your services rendered, I am confident that if your client wanted to have it reviewed (taxed), you will be more successful in having it approved by the Reviewing Officer.
- If a client complains that you did not keep him informed about the status of his file, the File Summary can act as proof.
- The File Summary can allow you to easily locate communication sent to a client or opposing counsel on your computer (particularly if your practice does not include placing hard copies in physical files).
Adopting these tools, will help you gain better control over your practice. Proper implementation of the above practices will hopefully result in improved client service and a reduction in complaints to the Law Society.
Written by: Dan Chow, Legal Counsel, Practice Management