When a Cal State Bar investigation against you ends, your work still isn’t quite complete. While you can definitely release the breath you’ve been holding and feel a bit of relief, it’s also time to consider what you must do to avoid getting back into that situation. And, yes, lawyers who are on the receiving end of a Cal State bar investigation statistically have a higher chance of it happening again.
Legal tech, applications that are designed for use within the legal industry, can help you correct the issue or issues that created the ethics complaint. It can also make law firm life easier and more productive. Here’s how you can use legal tech to move forward once the Cal State Bar investigation against you has closed.
Understand the Cause of the Complaint
Before you can research and evaluate potential legal tech options for your practice, you must understand the cause behind the ethics complaint. This isn’t about reliving the past. It’s about ensuring that the old adage of past behavior predicting future behavior doesn’t come back to bite you.
Objectivity is essential for this process. If you’re unable to get into an objective frame of mind, talk with a trusted colleague, friend, or your spouse to help you determine the actual cause for the complaint. Some of the most common reasons ethics complaints are filed against lawyers include incompetence, poor communication (including not returning phone calls and emails as well as not providing an appropriate number of updates related to the client matter), and not providing invoices. As we move forward in our discussion on how legal tech can help you move forward, we will use those most common reasons as our examples. However, if the Cal Bar State investigation involved another reason, there’s likely legal tech out there that can still help you. You’ll just need to do a little research.
Legal Tech and the Client Intake Process
One of the most well-known legal tech options available helps lawyers manage their clients better. This includes the client intake process. This process isn’t something that should be rushed. It should be a process that is easy for the client to get through. It should also provide you with all of the information you need before any consultation occurs.
Using legal tech to help you manage the client intake process provides you with a way to receive and share documents, images, and messages with the client. You are better prepared for consultations. Your clients can get through the intake process without feeling as if it detracts from the time they scheduled to meet with you to discuss their problem. This type of legal tech could help you fulfill your ethical obligations of diligence and competence.
Legal Tech and Communication
Poor communication can create a myriad of problems between you and your client. Think of it from the client’s perspective. In their mind, they have a serious problem that they’re paying you to help them solve. For most, “no news is good news” doesn’t make them feel any better. They need reassurance. They need to know you’re working on their behalf. They need your professional empathy.
And, yes, your time is limited. You don’t have all day to return emails and voicemails left for you. You don’t have all day when it comes to being on the phone. Clients don’t mind hearing from support staff most of the time. Yet, there are times when what they really want is to get reassurance from you.
You can use legal tech to make communicating with your clients faster and easier. Honestly, our first tip for this isn’t even related to legal tech. It just has to do with your email. It doesn’t matter what email host or program you use, including your phone. If you’re going to be out of the office or unavailable because of meetings, trial prep, hearings, settlement negotiations, depositions, or personal reasons, set-up your out of office response. This response will go out to anyone who sends you an email. It needs to state how long you’ll be out of the office, when the sender can expect to hear from you, and the person they can contact for an emergency. For example:
”Thank you for your email. On Wednesday, March 27, 2019, I will be out of the office for the day attending a CLE. I will be back in the office tomorrow, Thursday, March 28, 2019, and will respond to emails. If this is an emergency, you may contact Juanita Mendez, Legal Assistant, by emailing her [email address] or calling her [phone number].”
You should also change your voicemail to a similar message for those who call you.
Applications that help you manage your practice can also help you communicate with your clients in a way that is faster and more secure. You can provide updates through a secure messaging platform. You can share documents and other files with them. You can also use it to quickly answer questions. What you must do, though, is create a policy that requires client inquiries of any sort to be answered within 24 to 48 business hours and follow through on it.
Legal Tech and Billing
Clients do not like getting surprises on their bill. Clients do not like it when they don’t understand how their money was spent. A billing complaint from a current or previous client could very well trigger a Cal State Bar investigation. The right legal tech solution can help you get and stay on top of your billing to prevent another complaint.
Legal tech makes it easy for you to track your time, include notes on exactly what you did during that time, and create invoices. Detailed invoices sent to clients on a regular basis can help protect you from a future complaint. Before you choose a program to help you track your time and billing, review the billing requirements in your jurisdiction. Understanding what’s required of you can make it easier to choose the right program.
And If You Face Another Cal State Bar Investigation?
Lawyers who are involved in a Cal State Bar investigation more than once face harsher penalties. It’s important that you pull out all the stops to protect your livelihood. The bar will be less inclined to negotiate with you or show you leniency. Use The State Bar Playbook to understand your options and talk with an ethics defense lawyer to create the best possible defense.