Rule of Professional Conduct 1.15 states that lawyers have a professional duty to protect all documents relating to clients by requiring that client property and files be “appropriately safeguarded.”
Failure to keep files safe and free from outside perusal is a failure in the duty to act competently in the best interests of a client. The rules and specific time periods for storing or destroying client files vary by jurisdiction.
Are lawyers an endangered species? If you read the headlines, it’s easy to reach that conclusion based on news like this:
• The list of once-large, now-defunct firms keeps growing: Dewey & LeBoeuf, Howrey & Simon, Heller Ehrman, Thelen Reid, Brobeck and others.
• Well over a dozen law schools face lawsuits by former students claiming that the schools misled their graduates about employment chances at major firms.
• Law school applications are down by as much as 25 percent.
• The ranks of entry level lawyers at large law firms have shrunk by as much as half since 2008, while compensation has remained flat.
• Partner de-equitization at large firms continues – a top Wall Street firm offered to pay older partners 50 percent of their previous five years’ partnership draw to leave.
The legal profession has reached a point where upheaval is the “new normal.” Certainly large law firms are changing in response to recession, technology and client demands; those firms that don’t change quickly enough, like Dewey & LeBoeuf, are doomed to swift failure.
Some wonder if the sole and small firm practitioner will survive this kind of turmoil.
The answer is that although big law firms serve the “1 percent” of the corporate world, there is enormous potential for solos and small firms to thrive by serving the “99 percent” of our society.
Under the Rules of Professional Conduct, guaranteeing a client a certain result in a legal matter has some limitations.
However, lawyers and law firms can promise a level of effort and standards of service without violating any professional rules because exerting effort on a client’s case involves factors within the lawyer’s control. Here are tactics within the control of every lawyer and law firm to help do just that.
The chief judge of New York’s highest court recently announced a pro bono requirement to gain admission to the state bar. Under this requirement, every new lawyer will have to prove their performance of 50 hours of pro bono practice before being admitted. Lawyers USA columnist Ed Poll explains why such a requirement is built on faulty premises of the nature of the profession.
The Internet has created a revolution in the way that lawyers and clients interact.
It’s just a small step to the next transformation: the virtual law practice, in which lawyer, staff and clients conduct legal practice primarily through the Internet.
It’s no secret that lawyers tend to be individualistic (and thus reluctant to give up personal control or direction), reactive (believing they must be flexible to accommodate variables that can’t be anticipated) and short-term (focusing on the contract, case or negotiation they have today). These traits undermine a successful planning process. However, planning must be done if a firm wants to thrive. Those firms without a plan merely hop from one paycheck to another. If they’re successful, it is quite by accident.
Financial fraud should, in theory, never be a concern for a law firm, where ethical considerations must predominate.
For too many lawyers, the marketing and production sides outweigh collections. They equate financial success with work done, measured in billable hours. But a lawyer’s inventory is not billable hours – it is the amount of cash that is realized from the billable hours outstanding.
Lawyers who understand financial benchmarking can explore operating efficiencies in the firm, gauge the firm’s performance relative to its financial goals and better assess and reflect value to clients in their bills.