Sections 3.1-2 and 3.2-1 of the Code of Professional Conduct confirm that, as a lawyer, you owe a duty to your clients to be competent to perform any legal services undertaken on their behalf. You should be conscientious, diligent, and efficient in the provision of services to clients.
The Code sets out a detailed, but not exhaustive, list of expected practices. Some of these include:
- keeping a client reasonably informed;
- keeping appointments with a client, or providing a timely explanation or apology when unable to keep such an appointment;
- ensuring, where appropriate, that all instructions are in writing or confirmed in writing;
- answering, within a reasonable time, any communication that requires a reply;
- having informed your client that something will happen, or that some step will be taken by a certain date, you do not allow the date to pass without providing follow-up information or an explanation to your client;
- ensuring that work is done in a timely manner so that its value to the client is maintained;
- maintaining office staff, facilities and equipment adequate to your practice;
- providing a client with complete, accurate, and relevant information about a matter;
- making a prompt and complete report when the work is finished or, if a final report cannot be made, providing an interim report when one might reasonably be expected.
The practices listed above all contemplate you dealing with information related to your client’s matter in an organized and timely fashion. This necessarily requires that you maintain appropriate file management systems, robust file management procedures, sound policies for documentation, and an effective diary system. Doing so will:
- ensure you provide competent and efficient legal service at a fair cost;
- assist you in having a viable practice; and
- protect you against allegations of negligence or complaints to the Law Society by assisting you to meet regulatory and legislative requirements (e.g., avoiding conflicts, preserving confidentiality, tracking limitations periods, remitting taxes, filing trust returns, etc.).
Once you have file and time management systems in place, it is important to review them periodically to ensure they are functioning properly and are responsive to changes in your practice. What may have worked well in one practice area may need to be modified or built upon if you add additional services to your practice. Further, the rapid pace of technological change often requires adapting established processes, a fact that has been underlined in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Determine a schedule for review and take steps to ensure that:
- the system you have is appropriate for your current practice;
- the system is appropriately documented in a procedure manual, whether paper or electronic, that all staff can locate, understand, and follow;
- the system is followed in practice; and
- the system is reviewed and audited periodically to ensure it is still appropriate and that technologies are still being appropriately maintained.
Having robust file management procedures, document practices, and diary systems is critical to ensuring you meet the quality of service that is expected of you.