The antidote to malpractice risk: technology
Malpractice claims against attorneys are on the rise. According
to the American Bar Association's Standing Committee on
Lawyers' Professional Liability, malpractice claims rose 30
percent from 2008 to 2011. Real estate, personal injury and family
law rank as the highest risk areas for malpractice claims. Firms
with two to five attorneys have the greatest risk of malpractice
claims. Common errors that lead to malpractice claims include:
substantive mistakes, procrastination and missed deadlines, lost
files or documents, trust fund mismanagement, failed conflicts of
interest checks, and poor client communication. For an excellent
visual summary of the ABA's profile of legal malpractice claims,
take a look at this infographic by LexisNexis.
What does this mean for today's practitioners? First and
foremost, while malpractice insurance is not required in
Massachusetts, it's a good idea to have it. If you are seeking a
provider, you need look no further than the Massachusetts Bar
Association, which has its own
Second, you can (and should) use technology to reduce the risk
of the aforementioned errors. One essential technology to
incorporate into your practice is a law practice management program
-- a way to organize your practice, manage clients and matters,
conduct IOLTA accounting, keep track of deadlines and tasks, track
time, create invoices and more.
We have written on the importance of law practice management
software (here and here), including reviews of different
products. Many of the new products are cloud-based and have the
advantage of mobility. As a member benefit, the Massachusetts Bar Association provides a discount
on the cloud-based product Clio.
So, how can a law practice management program help you hedge
against the risk of malpractice? Well, for starters, by improving
organization and increasing efficiency you will have that much more
time to dedicate to substantive matters. That means (hopefully)
less chance of a substantive case error. Here are some other
- Calendar functions keep you on track to meet your deadlines,
complete tasks and appear in court on the right date and time.
- Electronic document management within a practice management
program provides easy access to documents associated with certain
clients and matters. (Note: when maintaining electronic files, you
need to be sure to have a redundant back up system in place.)
- Legal-specific trust accounting features (available with some,
but not all, practice management programs) help you manage your
accounts and conduct reconciliations as required by the Massachusetts
Rules of Professional Conduct.
- Conflict checks, which should be conducted with each new
engagement, are an automated process with global search
functionality and fields for tracking multiple names and related
While you should constantly strive to maintain good
communication with your clients, a law practice management system
will help you stay on top of each matter, easily review
correspondence, attach file notes and set reminders for continuing
follow up with clients.
The features described above only begin to scratch the surface
of the magic of these practice management programs, which have
become more and more user friendly. With any new technology there
will be a slight learning curve, but you certainly don't need to be
a technophile to set it up and run it. I encourage you to take
advantage of a product demo or trial period.
Don't wait any longer. Take control of your practice and sleep
better at night by investing in a law practice management program.
If it keeps you in practice and out of trouble, it might very well
be the best investment you'll ever make.
Tip courtesy of Heidi Alexander, Law Office Management Assistance
Published November 14, 2013
To learn more about the Law Practice Management
Section, which is complimentary for all MBA members,
contact LPM Section Chair Cynthia E.
MacCausland or Vice Chair Damian J.