Legal Wake-Up Call - Have You Answered?
by Paul La Fayette, Esq.
Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Remember in law school when you would have that dream where you walk into the classroom only to find everyone taking the final exam that you completely forgot about? Then you wake up in a cold sweat with your heart pounding out of your chest.
In practice, the only thing worse than a bad dream of making a mistake, is actually living that bad dream.
In almost every instance where I defended an attorney in a malpractice case, the attorney was a competent, thoughtful and good attorney. Particularly in those cases where there was liability, the question I ask is “how did this otherwise good and well-respected attorney make such a stupid mistake?” Inevitably the answer involves time – the lack of it or the poor use of it.
The American Bar Association published an article a few years ago identifying the most common claims made in legal malpractice cases. Of the top ten common claims, at least 6 of them deal directly with time in some manner: planning errors, inadequate investigation, failure to file documents, failure to calendar, failure to know deadlines and procrastination. In each of these instances, a failure to take the time to properly plan, investigate, document and meet deadlines led to the lawsuit.
As mentioned, the attorneys that I have represented are sharp, experienced professionals. In my experience of identifying where they made their mistakes, I found common themes that were the early warnings of bad things to come.
The most common theme was extensions on client deadlines and continuances in litigation. While these are relatively common for most attorneys, there is a point at which they become a pervasive problem – when it becomes the norm.
If you take a moment to look at your practice, ask yourself these questions:
- How often am I seeking extensions of deadlines?
- How often do I start a letter with “I apologize for the delay” or “I appreciate your patience”?
This is not limited to litigated cases but also client deadlines and transactional deadlines. These should be your wake-up calls – your bad dreams before they happen.
The fact that we are so pressured by time is hardly a revelation and there really is no magic formula to fixing time management issues. That being said, you can start by identifying whether the problem exists. Then, make a concerted effort to set aside realistic time frames to accomplish tasks.
Make sure your calendaring system is effective. Utilize your staff to keep track of deadlines. Have at least a couple hours every week set aside and use that time to look at your calendar, review your cases and matters, and make a list of what is coming up and what needs attention.
Only you can prevent the bad dreams from becoming reality.