By Nicole Hyland —
This article was originally published on May 6, 2020.
The Covid-19 crisis has upended the legal industry, forcing law firms to adapt quickly to an almost entirely remote work environment. As with any significant upheaval, this sudden and radical transformation of the legal profession creates new risk management challenges for law firms.
In this four-part series we discuss some of the risk management issues that law firms face during the Covid-19 pandemic and offers some tips for minimizing those risks.
- Part 1 addresses: “Giving Covid-19 Advice” and “Hoarding and Dabbling”
- Part 2 addresses: “Client Intake and Conflicts” and “Deadlines and Statutes of Limitations”
- Part 3 addresses: “Proofreading Errors” and “Supervising Attorneys and Staff”
- Part 4 addresses’ “Confidentiality and Cybersecurity” and “Isolation, Mental Health Issues and Sickness”
For many years, I have done most of my reading (both for work and leisure) on screens rather than on hard copies. Yet for some reason, I still find that proofreading on paper is more reliable and accurate than on a screen. In addition, it is always helpful to have a fresh pair of eyes proofread documents. After revising a document multiple times, there is a tendency to become blind to certain errors and skip over them.
Working from home means a lot more screen time and a lot less printing, which means a higher risk of proofreading errors. In addition, our colleagues are not as conveniently located as they once were, so we might forget to ask someone to proofread our documents before we hit the send button.
Proofreading shortcuts are a recipe for mistakes – and mistakes are the key ingredient in that untantalizing stew we know as legal malpractice (sorry, I’ve been doing a lot of home cooking lately). The cost of a misplaced comma, a missing “not”, or using “and” instead of “or” can be substantial. Law firm management should remind lawyers that best practices include having a second person proofread important documents, preferably in hard copy. If printing is not an option, increasing the document’s font size on your screen or reading out loud can help catch mistakes.
Supervision of Attorneys and Staff
When your employees are scattered to the four winds, it is harder to keep tabs on what (and how) they are doing. But not only do law firms have an ethical duty to supervise lawyers and staff, the role of supervision serves an essential risk management function. Supervising lawyers and nonlawyers reduces the risk of mistakes, thereby reducing the risk of malpractice claims.
Supervision involves more than just (figuratively) looking over people’s shoulders. It is about promoting a law firm culture that encourages communication, openness, access and collaboration. Many law firms have instituted regular video conferences for the entire firm as well as for individual practice groups. These formal meetings are an important method of supervision, but more is needed during this time of self-isolation. Law firms should consider other measures to encourage regular communication among lawyers and staff. Junior lawyers and nonlawyers should feel free to pick up the phone and call senior lawyers and partners to ask them questions or bounce ideas around. Conversely, a friendly “check-in” call from a partner or senior lawyer should not be so rare that it creates a sense of fear or trepidation in the recipient. As we shelter in place, it is all the more important that law firms encourage free-flowing and open lines of communication.
Check out the rest of our four-part series for more tips.