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Conflicts of Interest

Unraveling the details of a case takes dedication and persistence to learn the truth and accurately communicate it. After all, that’s why your clients hire you in the first place! However, there are some gray areas that make transparency complicated. Some of the biggest areas of concern are conflicts of interest.

Conflicts of interest are a definite no-no when it comes to representing your clients, but they can be tricky to spot. And while you personally may not be impacted, it is important to keep your firm in mind before proceeding with a potential conflict of interest.

Perform a Conflict Check:

Always double-check for potential conflicts before digging into a case. Sometimes clients may have relationships with other clients that you or your firm have represented. Other times, conflict may not be evident until later on in a case. Either way, keep an open mind and stay alert of possible things that could compromise the outcome of a case.

Implementing a system that provides facts and information that will help you to discern whether a conflict exists can help you to be better informed before you proceed. These are some conflict instances that you need to remain mindful about:

  • Connections between current clients and prospective clients
  • Links between former clients and prospective clients
  • Complications that relate to the lawyer’s/firm’s best interests

Keep Lines of Communication Open:

It is important to remain constantly vigilant that an issue could arise at any time. If it does, it’s essential not to ignore it, but to face it head on. Be open with clients about any existing or potential conflict that arises as you go proceed with. Finally, be prepared to discontinue representation of a client if circumstances surrounding their case become too conflicted.

What to Do When Conflicts of Interest Crop Up:

When a conflict of interest is uncovered, you have two options for proceeding:

  • Discontinue working with your client. The most obvious solution is to cease working with the client in question as soon as a conflict is discovered. Withdrawal of representation can be as simple as sending a non-engagement letter to a potential client or may be more involved, depending on which point you’re at in your case.
  • Continue client representation. Depending on the level of conflict, you may be able to keep working with your client by having them sign a waiver. This will allow them to acknowledge the conflict and permit you to continue work on the case.

Staying aware of conflicts of interest is crucial to successful client relationships and representation. Protect yourself and your firm by doing your due diligence to research clients and communicating with them throughout the legal process.

Check out more insights from industry experts on the Enchanting Lawyer Podcast!

File Management

Many people joke about professionals with messy desks and piles of papers. It can even be seen on social media through memes and graphic images illustrating how individuals with messy desks are often creative and well balanced. An attorney’s office with these file management habits, however, is no laughing matter. With client information and confidential details, one paper lost in the shuffle can drastically affect the outcome of a case.

The Importance of Proper File Management:

Organization is the cornerstone to success. Not only does it help operations run smoothly at your firm and aid in customer service, but staying organized is also an ethical and legal requirement as an attorney. The ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct discusses the need for lawyers to safeguard client property while maintaining their own records and copies.

This applies to an active client/lawyer relationship as well as a relationships that have been terminated: Rule 1.16(d) says that “upon termination of representation, a lawyer shall take steps to…protect a client’s interests, such as…surrendering papers and property to which the client is entitled and refunding any advance payment of fee or expense that has not been earned or incurred.” They note that you may retain some papers to the extent of the law, but you may face consequences for the loss or destruction of client papers, materials or property.

Files You Need to Keep:

While there is no comprehensive list of the files you’re required to keep, a general rule of thumb includes:

  • Records of account funds and other property — like original papers
  • A copy of the statement of client rights, signed by you and your client
  • Trust account records about the funds or property of a client

It is also advised to hold on to papers from cases regarding:

  • Minors
  • Guardianships
  • Bonded Attorney Performance
  • Insolvency
  • Bankruptcy
  • Probate
  • Trust accounts
  • Criminal Law

The ABA has noted that “a client is not entitled to papers and property that the lawyer generated for the lawyer’s own purpose in working on the client’s matter.” However, if the client is terminated before the matter is resolved, you may need to turn over some of these files to the client.

Electronic Files:

Electronic files, such as emails, documents, and even voicemails, often have several backup copies. Just deleting one copy doesn’t mean you’ve gotten rid of everything. Ideally, look into a cleaning software program that permanently erases hard drive data by an overwriting process. This can prevent certain sensitive data from ever being recovered. Appointing a tech-savvy staff member to organize your electronic records is another great practice for file management.

How to Dispose of Files:

The best bet before destroying anything is to first contact the client. Verify what the client’s preference as to what should be done with dated files. Do NOT destroy anything before you get the proper approval. For large quantities of disposable files, services are available to shred them for you in bulk. This may spare you the stress of having to personally shred them which can prove to be tedious and time-consuming. One would hope this goes without saying, but NEVER throw any office papers with personal or professional information directly in the trash. Files left intact and thrown out haphazardly open the floodgates for a number of security breaches.

Now that we are officially in the 2017 New Year, there’s no better time than the present to stay on top of the crucial aspects of managing your firm such as file management. One way to do this is by subscribing to my weekly RSS feed. Receive bi-weekly notifications containing helpful tips and insights on how to become the enchanting firm you’ve always strived to be!

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Boost Staff Morale

Before you know it, the holiday season will have come and gone, but the spirit of giving and goodwill should be prevalent all throughout the year. Giving back to the community is one of the best things that any business can do, both for the people around them and the morale of their employees. Law firms are no exception and even offer unique skills that they can use to give back even more. Why not utilize these skills to help those in your community through your time and knowledge? Here are a few suggestions of ways your firm can make a difference, all while involving your employees to boost staff morale.

How Can You Boost Staff Morale While Serving the Community?

Collect Food, Toys, and Clothing:

The holiday season is an especially difficult time for those less fortunate to go without food and other everyday necessities. Consider arranging a collection area in your office for people to donate food, toys, clothing, and any number of other nonperishable items that can benefit local families. Get your staff involved with organizing and dispensing the items to appropriate food banks and charitable organizations.

Volunteer Your Time:

Your time may be considered the most valuable thing you can donate, by either volunteering your physical presence or your knowledge. Reserve a day to take your employees out on a volunteer team-building excursion. This could be anything from serving the homeless at the local soup kitchen or spending time at a nearby children’s hospital. Getting your staff members out of their comfort zones and face-to-face with real people just like them who have been dealt a raw deal can spark that true spirit of the holidays.

Provide Pro-Bono Services:

In regards to ways you can volunteer your time and/or expertise, you can provide legal advice or services to someone who may not otherwise be able to afford it. Project H.E.L.P. is a great group for helping match attorneys to homeless individuals in the area. Schools and hospitals are also in need of legal advice, and they are certainly always looking for volunteers. One way you can also personally contribute is by mentoring an aspiring law student or give a lecture at a local college.

Set Up a Non-Profit:

Is there a cause that holds a special place in your heart, but you struggle to find an organization for it? Why not set up your own non-profit? Keep in mind, however, non-profit organizations require a serious commitment. You must be determined and willing to designate an appropriate amount of time to manage it for the long-term. That is why sharing the workload with your employees can have a dual purpose. It can unite them to work together as a team while also giving them a better understanding of the particular cause you are organizing for.

Contribute to Charities:

Share the wealth with causes that matter the most to you and your staff. You can make yearly contributions based off of how successful your firm was that particular year. Go a step further and find out what causes those on your staff care about. Not only will this help those charities, it will show your staff that their interests are also taken into consideration by making a difference in something they believe in.

The opportunity to pay it forward and improve your local community is always available. By joining forces with all of your employees, you won’t only boost staff morale but you’ll also have more manpower to make a significant impact. Exemplified perfectly in the musical lyrics of the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson, “Heal the world. Make it a better place, for you, and for me, and the entire human race!”

I hope you and the ones closest to your heart have a wonderful holiday season and an enchanting New Year! And in the spirit of staying connected, be sure to visit the Enchanting Lawyer Facebook Page! 

 

Protecting Your Social Reputation

The Holiday Season is a time full of cheer and festivities. From holiday parties and fun outings to exchanging gifts within in the office, you and the staff members of your firm will most likely be posting various things on your social media throughout the season. Although it can be tempting to share all of the merry moments with your social community, you’ll want to take a few moments to think about what is appropriate to post throughout the holidays.

The following are a few parameters to consider to protect your firm’s social reputation now and all the way into the New Year.

Post Your Hours/Availability

Not only should your holiday hours be posted on your website, they should also be available to your clients on your social media. Nothing is more frustrating to a client than being unaware of when they will be able to get ahold of you during any time of the year, let alone the holiday season. Make it clear to them when you will and will not be available for calls and/or meetings. It’s perfectly understandable to take well-deserved time off to spend with loved ones, as long as you make it known.

Beware of Live-Streaming Videos

Facebook Live and Twitter’s Periscope are flourishing with popularity as they display what is happening in real time and allow viewers to react. While using these tools can be beneficial for a number of marketing strategies, it should be used with caution in respect to parties or holiday gatherings. Be aware of how much of your firm you are exposing and alert your staff of things that are considered ‘off limits’ on live video streaming.

Review Photos

This should go without saying but a firm should avoid posting photos with employees holding drinks or acting “silly” if they are a little intoxicated. Photos that are posted from a firm’s holiday party should be reviewed thoroughly before they are posted anywhere online to avoid any unnecessary bad publicity or create an unsavory image of your staff. In addition, it is also advised to not post images of any extravagant gifts that you or your firm may have received.

Keep it Neutral

In the end, it ultimately comes down to knowing your audience and what they expect to see when they think of your firm. Use common sense when posting and make sure that you are keeping your posts as neutral as possible. Your clients and followers come from a wide variety of backgrounds, have different beliefs and celebrate different religious holidays. It’s acceptable to post greetings such as “Merry Christmas”, but be mindful to not over-promote or get too specific in regards to a particular religion or set of beliefs. The last thing you want to do is give the impression that your firm is biased towards a certain demographic.

In a nutshell, make sure that you are not ignoring any of your faithful clients or social channels throughout the Holiday Season. Take time to thank them for their loyalty over the years and their commitment to your firm. As an attorney, you are only as successful as the number of clients that you are able to maintain and service favorably. After all, showing your clients that you care is what the holidays are all about!

As important as customer service is during the holiday stretch, it’s equally as important throughout the entire year in order to collect and retain your clientele. For more information on how you can grow the ‘enchanting’ firm you’ve always dreamed of, check out more helpful articles by clicking here!

Attorneys Giving Thanks

Attorneys Giving Thanks to What Matters the Most

Thanksgiving is just a few short days away, and in our rush to sample all of the tasty treats that are prepared for the big day, we tend to gloss over the ‘thanks’ in Thanksgiving. As attorneys, we have a lot to be thankful for now, and all year long.  Sometimes, it can be easy to forget that after a long hard case that didn’t go the way that we wanted it to for our clients or when things in our personal life don’t work out how we want. For attorneys giving thanks, remember to try focusing on the positive things this holiday season, rather than the negatives.

You’re a Lawyer

Yes, you’re in one of the hardest professions that required you to work exceptionally hard from high school all the way into law school. Then of course, once enduring the hefty workload of law school, there was that dreaded bar exam you were required to pass. That is a rare accomplishment that you should certainly be thankful for in your life.  Not everyone can follow their dreams and make it in their chosen profession. Now, by achieving your dreams, you are able to pay it forward by helping others in finding justice.

Job Security

If you are part of a large firm, there is always the possibility of downsizing. However, that can be preventable by letting your work ethic speak for itself. As for attorneys that manage their own firms, job security is definitely more in their realm of control by how they attract and retain clients. No one can ever say their job is layoff-proof, but having the proper law-practicing credentials puts you in a decent position for long-term employment.

Your Staff

You should be thankful for the people that you surround yourself with professionally. These are the day-to-day individuals that help keep your firm afloat and allow you to focus more on your own workload. They are there for you day in and day out with whatever you need, so show them your appreciation and they’ll continue to produce for you.

Your Clients

Attorneys giving thanks to their clients is a MUST. Not only because they pay the bills, but because they give your life purpose. You fight for them every day with your actions and strive towards changing their life for the better. There are many people that are aimless in their actions, but not you. When you go that extra mile to provide a favorable verdict, your clients, in turn, will also express their appreciation by referring you to others.

The Era We Live In

As little as 25 years ago, the idea of connecting quickly with people from across the world without breaking the bank was unfathomable. Now, the digital age that we currently live in provides us with the ability to send messages or images to all corners of the globe instantly, as well as attend video conferences with clients or colleagues. Some may say that we’ve become spoiled by today’s ease of connectivity, but ultimately, being a part of this moment in time allows us to work more quickly, efficiently, and even stay in touch with all of the loved ones in our lives regardless of their location.

Your Health

You woke up this morning, and that should be on the top of your list of things to be grateful for in life. Every day is a blessing that we should acknowledge as being precious. Everyone has something that ails him or her in one way or another. Whether you take medication for high blood pressure or struggle with an old injury, you began your day with breath in your lungs and the instinctual will power to take on anything that the world throws at you.

Obviously, this is only a short list of the many things that warrant attorneys giving thanks. Each and every person lives their life differently and has their own experiences. What’s important is that we recognize those experiences and individuals that have significantly improved both our professional and personal lives. So as you endure your daily grind, be sure to set aside some time to thank everyone that has influenced you not only during the holidays but all year long!

If you found the information above helpful, that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Be sure to sign up for the latest news and insights on how you can boost your firm to it’s fullest potential.

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