Malpractice claims against attorneys are on the rise. According to the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on Lawyers’ Professional Liability, from 2008 to 2011, malpractice claims rose thirty percent. Real estate, personal injury, and family law rank as the highest risk areas for malpractice claims. Firms with two to five attorneys have the greatest risk of malpractice claims. Common errors that lead to malpractice claims include: substantive mistakes, procrastination and missed deadlines, lost files or documents, trust fund mismanagement, failed conflicts of interest checks, and poor client communication. For an excellent visual summary of the ABA’s profile of legal malpractice claims, take a look at this infographic by LexisNexis.
What does this mean for today’s practitioners? First, and foremost, while malpractice insurance is not required in Massachusetts, it’s a good idea to have it. If you are seeking a provider, you need look no further then the Massachusetts Bar Association, which has its own insurance agency.
Second, you can (and should) use technology to reduce the risk of the aforementioned errors. One essential technology to incorporate into your practice is a law practice management program. What is a law practice management program? It is a way to organize your practice, manage clients and matters, conduct IOLTA accounting, keep track of deadlines and tasks, track time and create invoices, and more. We have written on the import of law practice management software (here and here), including reviews of different products. Many of the new products are cloud-based and thus have the advantage of mobility. As a member benefit, the Massachusetts Bar Association provides a discount on the cloud-based product Clio.
So, how can a law practice management program help you hedge against the risk of malpractice? Well, for starters, by improving organization and increasing efficiency you will have that much more time to dedicate to substantive matters. That means (hopefully) less chance of a substantive case error. Calendar functions are designed to keep you on track to meet your deadlines, complete tasks, and appear in court on the right date and time. Electronic document management within a practice management program provides for easy access to documents associated with certain clients and matters. (Note: When maintaining electronic files, you need to be sure to have a redundant back up system in place.) Legal-specific trust accounting features (available with some, but not all practice management programs) help you manage your accounts and conduct reconciliations as required by the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct. Conflict checks, which should be conducted with each new engagement, is an automated process with global search functionality and fields for tracking multiple names and related parties. While you should constantly strive to maintain good communication with your clients, a law practice management system will help you stay on top of each matter, easily review correspondence, attach file notes, and set reminders for continuing follow up with clients.
The features described above only begin to scratch the surface of the magic of these practice management programs. What’s more is that these programs have become more and more user friendly. Of course, with any new technology there will be a slight learning curve, but you certainly don’t need to be a technophile to set it up and run it. I encourage you to take advantage of a product demo or trial period. So, don’t wait any longer, take control of your practice and sleep better at night by investing in a law practice management program. If it keeps you in practice and out of trouble, it might very well be the best investment you’ll ever make.