Documenting the Client File is my practice management advice column in that issue. It is not an overstatement to say this is a critically important issue in today’s law firms. We think of the client file as containing all of the important client documents. But of equal importance is the documentation of communications with the client. Yes, we need both documents and documentation!
This is so important because it is much harder today. Previously, lawyers communicated about client files primary in limited formal settings. The lawyer was seated in the office at a desk talking either face-to-face or on the telephone. For every conversation the lawyer had the trusty and ubiquitous yellow legal pad on which notes were taken of the discussion or negotiation. Perhaps there would be a deposition or out-of-the office meeting, but the yellow legal pad and pen for the notes was there, too. Since almost all legal work was billed on an hourly basis, there also should have been a time entry completed by the lawyer, so there were two types of documentation.
Today there are many ways to communicate, from email to texting to who knows what the kids are using today. Many matters are handled with arrangements that do not involve hourly billing. Some lawyers are not as diligent as they should be about making certain every email makes it to the client file. And text messages are even more challenging since they are on your mobile device.
Many lawyers would be surprised to learn that many malpractice actions are brought because of communication issues. In fact, in at least one jurisdiction it is the single largest category of complaints. It is possible someone might misrepresent what was said. It is also possible people remember the same event differently. If a communication later becomes contested, you don’t want your response to be “Oh, that was by text message and I guess I deleted that text.” Documentation of client’s instructions and client decisions about their representation are very important. If you strike a trial setting where the client was demanding $100,000, you do not want the only verification to be a text message from you to the client with “OK 40K it is” where the client never replied. Read my column. Share it within your firm. Make sure and document every communication related to a client file within the client file.
If this is a challenge, you need a practice management software solution/service to assist with this critically important task. That is one of dozens of reasons you need a practice management software solution.