There is no one-size-fits-all blueprint for managing a law practice in the best of times, much less in a pandemic.
But one law firm that represents attorneys in malpractice cases has created a risk management guide to help lawyers navigate the challenges brought by COVID-19. The guide, “Managing Your Law Practice and Avoiding Malpractice in the COVID-19 Environment,” was prepared by Goldberg Segalla and is available on the firm’s Professional Liability Matters website/blog.
“Unprecedented disruption caused by COVID-19 has changed the practice of law, at least temporarily, and in many ways these changes have occasioned increased risk of malpractice claims,” says Goldberg Segalla. “The pandemic has had an immediate impact on our use of technology and how we interact with clients, colleagues and the courts. Attorneys face dangers exacerbated by the virus yet our ethical obligations and client duties remain. The stock market is dropping and businesses are failing due to an economic downturn, routines are flipped upside down, deadlines are uncertain as previously longstanding rules are changing daily, and increased personal obligations collide and conflict with client obligations.”
View or download the guide here.
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Following are some highlights from Managing Your Law Practice and Avoiding Malpractice in the COVID-19 Environment.
- The definition of “competence” has changed. “This includes the obligation to monitor and comply with new rules arising from COVID-19. Courts and offices may be closed, deadlines are uncertain, calendars and statutes of limitations are in flux. Attorneys must review applicable court orders regarding closures, continuances and schedule changes and ensure effective communication – taking into account and addressing the increased risks of miscommunication that will arise in remote working scenarios. Missed deadlines are a leading cause of malpractice claims, even under routine circumstances. On a day-to-day level, attorneys should monitor news, health advisories, and internal firm alerts that could impact client goals or the attorney’s plans in accomplishing those goals. Practice-specific information is readily available, whether it be in labor and employment law (e.g., guidelines issued by the EEOC arising from COVID-19), insurance coverage (with articles addressing business interruption coverage arguments), to workers compensation and more. Take the time to find and digest how COVID-19 is impacting your particular practice.”
- Make sure your firm continuity plan has a proviso for pandemic response. “Law firms should draft or update internal policies— on subjects including such as working remotely, sick leave, and security—to reflect what we have already learned from the pandemic, and to accommodate the realities of social distancing and other disruptions to the rhythms and routines of work. Policies should be transparent and readily available. Be mindful of the need for flexibility and to identify a point-person virtually accessible to employees to address questions or concerns.”
- Emphasize wellness. “Many malpractice claims arise from an attorney’s mental health or substance abuse struggles. Such problems may intensify in times of increased stress. Be mindful of the pressures caused by this pandemic and how it has impacted your routine and your state of mind. There are countless resources available to help establish a healthier work-from-home approach and to help prioritize breaks, healthy eating, and social interaction through virtual sources.”
- Be aware of the cyber-risks of remote work. “Many attorneys had experience working remotely, but most could not have anticipated the immediate global shift to a virtual environment of this scale and with such urgency. Depending on your practice, your interests, and your firm’s resources, there may be a dramatic difference between the technological assets and capabilities in your traditional office and those available in your home office. When transitioning to remote work, consider the technology necessary to fulfill each step in the life of a matter from conflict check through document retention for closed files. Are you prepared to meet your client’s needs securely from your living room?”
SOURCE: Goldberg Segalla
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