Loss Prevention Tip #35
Be Aware of The Dangers of Working Remotely
While modern technology might allow you to run your practice from various locations outside your office, there are many risks, such as:
Breaches of Confidentiality/Security
Breaches of confidentiality and security can occur in many ways such as Loss or theft of your laptop or PDA; wireless connectivity; metadata in documentation; interception of cell phone conversations; loss of USB keys/flash drives; viruses, worms, middleware, spyware; risk of email interception/wrong recipient.
The theft, loss or destruction of practice related data is disruptive, stressful and financially draining to you. If that data belongs to, or impacts your client, this breach of confidentiality might result in a negligence claim against you, an investigation or fine under PIPEDA and/or a legal ethics and professional responsibility complaint. Remember to treat the documentation/data you create and store electronically on these various devices with the same care you do your paper files. When using wireless connectivity ensure that all possible security features are in place.
Not Effectively Managing the Retainer or Non-Retainer
If you enter into legal discussions in a social setting you run a real risk that the person you spoke to may consider they have engaged you, even if you have never billed them. Even with ongoing clients there is a danger that something mentioned to you casually in a social setting will result in them thinking they have retained you on another matter when you don’t understand that to be the situation.
Every time you talk with a potential client you should be getting their name, address and phone number, the nature of their case and the parties involved so that you can check for conflicts and send out either an engagement or non-engagement letter. If you’re speaking with a potential client outside the office are you getting this information? If you are, where and how are you storing it? Are you able to find the contact details for your potential clients so that you can send the engagement or non-engagement letter when you eventually get back to the office? Do you have the details of your discussions documented?
You don’t want to find yourself in a situation where you get a phone call from a person (perhaps after a limitation period has expired) who says that they spoke to you last summer about their case and they are wondering what you’ve done about it when you didn’t even consider yourself retained. To avoid this situation, send out a non-engagement letter when you do not consider yourself retained, and an engagement letter when you are retained for each new matter.
Not Documenting Advice Given and Instruction Received
Our claims statistics indicate that poor communication with clients and others, a failure to confirm or follow written instructions and disputed instructions are major causes of negligence claims in all areas of law. For this reason, it is important that you document in your file all instructions received and advice given. If you are doing business at the golf course or at your Florida condo there is a real danger that you might not document the advice given or instructions received; or that if you do, the documents aren’t retained in the file. Without such documentation it is extremely difficult to successfully defend a negligence claim against you. As well, when you are giving instructions to your office or making decisions without the complete file you may also forget specific instructions from a client or other important information. Errors that given rise to a claim are easily made this way.
Burnout/Lack of Balance
While it is important for your office to be able to contact you if absolutely necessary, there are many benefits to you being able to take a regular break from the office. Going years without a regular holiday is counterproductive, and is a recipe for disaster both personally and professionally. It almost always results in burnout. Balance is an essential component of a successful law practice. Regardless of when and how your time off is structured, figure out what works for you, but do give yourself those much needed breaks. You will find it will result in more productivity.