Efficient Law Office Operation & Administration
Presented by: Marie L. Tucker Office Coordinator & Paralegal for Eaton Peabody, Brunswick Founder & Owner of Girl Friday Services of Maine, Bowdoinham Founder of the Maine Association of Virtual Assistants
All attorneys practicing law in the State of Maine are bound by the Rules of Conduct as adopted by the Maine Bar Association.
“ Rule 3-Code of Professional Responsibility”
“ Rule 3.4 –Identifying Commencement, Continuation, and Termination of Representation.” Rule 3.4(b)(1) reads “A lawyer shall not commence or continue representation of a client if the representation would involve a conflict of interest, except as permitted by this rule.” However there are exceptions to this rule – informed consent and dual representation consent.
Programs such as Rainmaker, LSS (Legal Software Systems, Inc. and RTG (RTG conflicts) cross reference names through a database of client names, contacts, and names of adverse parties from past matters.
Informed Consent & Dual Representation-
Occasionally a potential client may seek counsel for a matter such as the purchase of property when the seller is already a firm client. A dual representation letter may be prepared in which the firm discloses prior engagement with the current client to both parties and requires acknowledgement from both parties that the attorney will represent both parties in this particular matter, but that if a dispute arises the attorney will represent neither party in said dispute.
An engagement letter serves to outline the terms of the engagement such as billing rate and methods of timekeeping, out of pocket costs and rates of other professionals such as paralegals or associate attorneys. Two copies should be sent to the client, one to keep and one to sign and return for the client file. It is important to receive a signed copy of the engagement letter before commencing with any work, to avoid disputes with the bill in the future.
Create a Billing Account Once a conflict check has been done and cleared it is time to set up a billing account, to do this you will need: *full name of the client *billing address *contact information *billing rate and cycle *larger firms will track who the originating, billing and project attorneys are *many firms will also track how the client came to choose their firm i.e. phone book, website, current client etc.
Set up files w/ a cover sheet & appropriate folders ∙ Correspondence ∙ Research/Meeting notes ∙ Bills/conflict ∙ Client documents ∙ Engagement letter ∙ Subfolders pertinent to the matter category* Filing System ∙ Alpha ∙ Attorney area ∙ Active files ∙ Numeric ∙ Practice area ∙ Inactive files Checking out Files It is more efficient to have a set procedure for checking files out of the filing system, such as a placement card, sign out sheet or the use of a file clerk. There is nothing more aggravating to an attorney then not being able to find a file when they want it. Discussion question: How are your files organized?
Paper or electronic Many offices today are moving towards document management and imaging documents to save in electronic files. Some offices are even going “paperless.” Document management programs such as Worldox index documents numerically, but are searchable by typing in text words, client name, document type, author etc. I believe humans who work in a career that requires analysis of documents will always want to have papers to hold onto and read. However, being able to scan in documents and save them to an electronic file, can greatly reduce the size of client files saving on filing space and making the management of the paper file easier. Of course an office will have to implement reliable back up procedures for electronic files.
File Management Retention and destruction of files Each law office should determine protocols for how long to hold onto inactive files and how to dispose of the file after completion of the matter i.e. return it to the client, destroy it, or hold onto it for another set number of years. Many firms utilize the option of storing inactive files at offsite storage facilities. Recently, storage facilities have also started to offer scanning and saving of electronic copies of files. Different matters require different lengths of time to retain original files for example, estate planning files should be retained indefinitely, real estate files may be destroyed in 2-4 years (as any original documents would be recorded at the registry of deeds and be easily retrieved.)
Time Keeping Attorneys and Paralegals bill clients for the time they work on a client file and for time spent traveling for the benefit of the matter such as to the courthouse. There are programs that can keep track of time based on the client account selected such as Rainmaker. Rainmaker allows you to choose the day the work is performed, enter in the description and assign the time increment. Most firms are set up to bill in increments of time such as tenths of an hour (0-6 minutes of time worked would equal .10 time billed). Some of the smaller offices and solo practitioners may simply keep a handwritten log of time worked. Expenses Along with tracking time, law offices will charge clients for out of pocket expenses such as recording and filing fees, parking fees and mileage when traveling to court, postage and copy fees.
Billing Process Law offices typically bill on a monthly basis, though some litigation cases may hold off on billing until the case is resolved in court. Also matters such as estate planning or corporate set up may be billed as a flat fee and the fees are either collected up front or billed when the work is completed. In many law offices monthly prebills are printed for review by the billing or project attorney, they either accept it or edit it. Once the prebill is approved a final bill is produced and sent to the client. Our bills are due within 3o days and incur a 1 ½ % fee if more than 30 days late. *If a client refuses to pay or ignores their bill repeatedly, you will be glad you took the time to prepare and obtain a signed copy of the engagement letter.
A trust account is a bank account maintained by the firm or branch office and is kept separate from the operations checking account that is used for general office operation expenses. Interest on Lawyer’s Trust Account (IOLTA): funds held in a lawyers trust account are the property of the law firm, but the firm cannot collect the interest on those funds held in escrow for the benefit of its clients. The interest gained is sent to the State Bar Association and is used to fund prepaid legal services for people who would otherwise not be able to obtain legal counsel.
Types of Funds held in an IOLTA account: Estate Proceeds & Administration Retainers for legal counsel & estimated costs & expenses Settlements & Judgments Escrow Funds *earnest money deposits
“ Rule 3.6 – Conduct During Representation ” Rule 3.6(h) reads: “ (1) Except as permitted by these rules, or when authorized in order to carry out the representation, or as required by law or by order of the court, a lawyer shall not, without informed consent, knowingly disclose or use information (except information generally known) that: (i) Is protected by the attorney-client privilege in any jurisdiction relevant to the representation; (ii) Is information gained in the course of representation of a client or former client for which that client or former client has requested confidential treatment; (iii) Is information gained in the course of representation of the client or former client and the disclosure of which would be detrimental to a material interest of the client or former client; or (iv) Is information received from a prospective client, the disclosure of which would be detrimental to a material interest of that prospective client, when the information is provided under circumstances in which the prospective client has a reasonable expectation that the information will not be disclosed.”
“ Rule 3.6 – Conduct During Representation ” Rule 3.6(h) reads: “ (2) A lawyer shall exercise reasonable care to prevent lawyers and non-lawyers employed or retained by or associated with the lawyer from improperly disclosing or using information protected by paragraph (1) of this subdivision. (3) This Rule is not violated by the disclosure or use of the information described in paragraph (1) of the subdivision that the lawyer reasonably believes is necessary to the defense of the lawyer, the lawyer’s partners, employees, or associates against an accusation of wrongful conduct presented to the Board or any tribunal. (4) A lawyer may disclose information gained in the course of representation of a former client, or learned from a prospective client, to the extent that the lawyer reasonably believes disclosure is necessary: (i) To prevent the commission of a criminal act that is likely to result in death or bodily harm to another person; or (ii) To avoid the furthering of a criminal act.”
“ Rule 3.6 – Conduct During Representation ” Rule 3.6(h) reads: “ (5) A lawyer who receives information clearly establishing that a client or former client has, during the representation, perpetrated a fraud upon any person or tribunal shall promptly call upon the client or former client to rectify the same; and if the client or former client refuses or is unable to do so, the lawyer shall reveal the fraud to the affected person or tribunal, except when the information is protected as a privileged communication. If a person other than a client or former client has perpetrated a fraud upon a tribunal, the lawyer shall promptly reveal the fraud to the tribunal.” Confidentiality rules apply to everyone in the law office from the receptionist who takes the initial inquiry phone call to the project attorney overseeing the entire lifecycle of the legal matter.
Thank you! Marie L. Tucker Girl Friday Services of Maine 207-841-5523 www.girlfridayservicesofmaine.com