With all the different time and billing, practice management, and customer management programs these days, it can be difficult to choose the right one for your practice. Here are some red flags I’ve learned to recognize, as well as answers that give me confidence that lawyers are making the right decision for their practice.
- A client’s relative offers to pay for your legal services. Do you know how to structure this third-party payment?
- You receive a “retainer” of $5,000 to be accessed only if your client fails to pay her monthly bill – an arrangement commonly known as collecting “last month’s rent.” Are you required to handle these funds in any special way?
- Your bookkeeper deposits a settlement payment on Friday, September 16. On Monday, September 19 your client demands his portion of the proceeds. Should you disburse the client’s share of the settlement?
- At the conclusion of your initial meeting a client writes you a check for $1500 to prepare a simple estate plan. Should you deposit the check in your IOLTA account or your business operating account? Are you confident that you have all the information needed to make this decision?
- For three years you’ve carried a small, uncashed client refund check on your books. You can’t find the client. Should you write it off?
If you don’t know the answers to these questions, want to brush up on lawyer trust accounting, or need ethics credits, consider attending Ethical Trust Accounting and Ethical Dilemmas: Unclaimed Client Funds. Here are the details:
Who Should Attend
Lawyers, staff, bookkeepers, administrators, office managers – anyone who handles trust funds in Oregon.
Date and Time
Both programs are online webinars – view the webcasts on any mobile device or desktop. Listen to audio via computer/device speakers or by telephone. A link to downloadable program materials will be sent automatically to all registered attendees.
Registration Fee and Discount for Blog Readers
Program materials included in registration fee. Secure payment processing powered by Eventbrite. Visa, MasterCard, Discover, and American Express accepted.
Ethical Trust Accounting will cover:
- Establishing regular, pooled, or separate IOLTA accounts
- Paying service charges and meeting minimum balance requirements
- Avoiding impermissible cushions
- Safeguarding client property and protecting against theft
- Holding unearned funds in trust until they “clear”
- Processing third party payments
- Using fixed fee agreements
- Paying yourself
- Reporting overdrafts
- Ethical recordkeeping and reconciliation
- Processing credit cards
- Retaining records
Remember to enter the discount code “Blog” to save 20% when registering for Ethical Trust Accounting.
Ethical Dilemmas: Unclaimed Client Funds
Is an in-depth, one hour CLE focusing on the issues surrounding unclaimed funds in IOLTA accounts. Topics include:
- Identifying unclaimed funds
- Determining residence
- Meeting timelines for assessment
- Pursuing ethical and statutory due diligence
- Reporting and remittance procedures
- Avoiding unclaimed funds
- Adopting strategies for dealing with lost checks
- Handling ethical and legal dilemmas for failure to report or remit
Can’t Attend These Programs?
All Rights Reserved  Beverly Michaelis
eCourt is available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Convenient? Absolutely! But with convenience comes risk.
Tempted by the generous schedule, it is easy to form the habit of postponing filing until shortly before midnight on the day the filing is due.
While far from ideal, last-minute filing will succeed if your document is accepted. But therein lies the trap. Acceptance is not instantaneous. It may take one to three court days before the clerk processes your document. What happens if the statute of limitations expires during this time?
If you receive notice that your filing was rejected after the statute of limitations has run, your only hope is to request relation back. Beyond strict compliance with the rules – which lay out a detailed scheme for resubmitting your filing and seeking relation back – there are other nuances in play. Handling relation back correctly means your client’s case goes forward. Mishandling relation back may result in a legal malpractice claim.
To understand what is at stake, and the specific steps you need to take, let’s begin by reviewing the filing process:
When is a Filing Accepted?
As noted above, eCourt filings are not automatically accepted when submitted. Every filing is reviewed by a court clerk:
- If the court accepts the document for filing, the date and time of filing entered in the register relate back to the date and time the electronic filing system received the document. When the court accepts the document, the electronic filing system will affix the date and time of submission on the document, thereby indicating the date and time of filing of the document. UTCR 21.080(4).
- If the court rejects a document submitted electronically for filing, the electronic filing system will send an email to the filer that explains why the court rejected the document, unless the filer has elected through system settings not to receive the email. The email will include a hyperlink to the document. UTCR 21.080(5).
Resubmitting a Rejected Filing
If you receive notice that your filing has been rejected after the statute or deadline is expired, follow UTCR 21.080(5)(a) to the letter. Correcting your original filing mistake and resubmitting your document is not enough to receive relation back.
To apply for relation-back to the original filing date, follow these steps:
- Diagnose and fix your filing error. The rejection notice issued by the electronic filing system will explain why the court rejected your document.
- Resubmit the document within 3 days of the date of rejection. If the third day following rejection is not a judicial day, then resubmit the filing the next judicial day. Resubmission means submission of the document through the electronic filing system or physical delivery of the document to the court. UTCR 21.080(5)(a).
- Include a cover letter with your resubmitted filing that contains the following information:
- the date of the original submission
- the date of the rejection
- an explanation of the reason you are requesting the date of filing to relate back to the original submission
- include the words “RESUBMISSION OF REJECTED FILING, RELATION-BACK DATE OF FILING REQUESTED” in the subject line of your cover letter. UTCR 21.080(5)(a)(i).
- If your resubmission is filed electronically the words “RESUBMISSION OF REJECTED FILING, RELATION-BACK DATE OF FILING REQUESTED” must also be included in the Filing Comments Field. UTCR 21.080(5)(a)(ii).
If you apply for relation back and realize that you did not fully comply with UTCR 21.080(5)(a), what should you do? If you are within the three day window for resubmission, there is no harm in trying again. The rule does not limit filers to a single resubmission attempt. Resubmit your filing a second time, with the proper cover letter and required information in the filing comments field. Be aware that getting relation back – even when you meet the technical requirements set forth in UTCR 21.080(5) – is within the court’s discretion and not guaranteed. While every effort is made to ensure uniform application of the rules, practices may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Furthermore, responding parties may object to a request for relation back within the time limits as provided by law for the type of document being filed. UTCR 21.080(5)(b).
These are important points for eFilers to grasp. Even if you fully and timely comply with UTCR 21.080(5), getting relation back is not an automatic right. Your best defense is to do it right the first time and follow the tips at the end of this article.
There is one other basis for requesting relation back. If the eFiling system is temporarily unavailable or if an error in the transmission of the document or other technical problem prevents the eFiling system from receiving a document, the court may, upon satisfactory proof, permit relation back. UTCR 21.080(6).
A filer seeking relation back due to “technical difficulties” must follow the same steps as any other filer resubmitting a rejected filing. (See the steps described above in Resubmitting a Rejected Filing.) In addition, the filer is permitted to attach supporting exhibits that substantiate the system malfunction.
PRACTICE TIP: Slightly different language is required in the cover letter and filing comments field if relation back is sought under UTCR 21.080(6): “RESUBMISSION OF REJECTED FILING, SUBMISSION UNSUCCESSFUL, RELATION-BACK DATE OF FILING REQUESTED.”
CAVEAT: Technical problems with the filer’s equipment or attempted transmission within the filer’s control will not generally excuse an untimely filing.
What If Relation Back is Denied?
If relation back is denied, contact the claims attorneys at the Professional Liability Fund.
Staying Out of Trouble
Avoid falling into the relation-back malpractice trap by following these tips:
- Read Chapter 21 of the Uniform Trial Court Rules. Monitor amendments, a number of which have been adopted out-of-cycle.
- Review the eCourt resources and practice aids available on the Professional Liability Fund website. Select Practice Management, then Forms, and under “Filtered by Category,” choose “eCourt.” [Or search this blog for eCourt posts.]
- Read “The Nuts and Bolts of Oregon eCourt,” and “Zero Tolerance for e-Filing Error,” by yours truly in the Oregon State Bar Bulletin.
- Attend eCourt CLEs and training sessions.
- Seek advice from colleagues with eFiling experience.
- Call the Professional Liability Fund if a filing mishap occurs.
[All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis]
Are you an iPhone user? Maybe a business owner? Or someone who likes to learn about new apps? If you’re in the vicinity of Central Oregon, consider taking Best Business Apps for the iPhone this October at Central Oregon Community College’s Chandler Lab.
Get the most out of your iPhone by discovering over 25 top-rated business productivity apps.
- Learn how to scan and edit documents on the go
- Schedule tasks with a tap of your finger
- Sign a document on your phone
- Share any type of file across platforms (iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac)
- Transform whiteboard notes or sketches into an editable document
- Connect apps and actions together with workflows to automate tasks
- And more!
This will be a hands-on learning experience. Download and follow along as I describe and demonstrate! These apps are hidden gems and free to download from the App Store. (With a few bonus paid apps thrown in.)
Prerequisite: Requires iPhone 4s or later with iOS 9.3.1 installed.
One of the most important skills lawyers must hone is the ability to size up clients and cases. If you’ve allowed disagreeable clients or “dog” files to creep into your practice, you know exactly what I mean.
Evaluate potential new clients based on the seven keys to successful client screening:
Are the client’s goals reasonable under the circumstances? Does a proper legal remedy exist? If you inform the client that the result she is seeking isn’t possible, how does the client respond to this news?
What drives the client? Does he have a “scorched earth,” take no prisoners, sue at all costs mentality? A desire to “get back” at the other party? This person may be difficult to manage, if not to please, and unwilling to compromise.
Past Legal History
What is the client’s history with the law, particularly the court system? Has the client ever filed a lawsuit? Been sued? Had a criminal case? A simple search using the “party name” field in OJCIN will yield results, but these are good questions to ask the client directly. For one, it may be crucial to know if your client has been involved in a similar or related matter in the past. Prior testimony could be relevant (or discovered). For screening purposes, the goal is to rule out red flags. If you discover the client has a record of bringing six unsuccessful civil suits in the last ten years, this may give you pause.
Willingness and Ability to Pay
The client who lacks the funds to pay you up front is very unlikely to come up with the money later. The client who complains about your fee and pays grudgingly is a fee dispute waiting to happen. ‘Nuff said.
This is the most critical screening element in my opinion. How many lawyers has the client spoken to and why? Do you get the sense the client is trying to conflict out the other party? (See Motives, above.) Has more than one lawyer declined to represent the client? Did the client fire her former lawyer? Is the client currently represented, but unhappy?
Getting a second opinion is not necessarily a bad thing. However, if there is a long line of lawyers behind you move on to the next prospect.
Sometimes clients tell us what we want to hear. All the words are right, but the client’s tone is off or he refuses to make eye contact. When nonverbal cues don’t align with the client’s verbal message, something is wrong. Either probe the inconsistency or decline representation.
The ideal client should have a neutral or positive attitude toward the law and the profession. A client who has a chip on her shoulder will be difficult to turn around. Your job is to learn more and weigh for yourself whether this person is someone you want to represent. You may discover the client’s feelings are justifiable. Or it could be the client is playing the “blame game.” If so, this is one queue you don’t want to be in.
More to Learn
Learning the seven keys to successful client screening is only part of the battle. If you want to hone your client and case screening skills, but missed the Client and Case Screening CLE last Wednesday, contact me for information on how to download the written materials. In addition to the 7 Keys to Successful Client Screening, this CLE also addressed:
- Integrating screening into client intake
- Probing clients with 5 must-ask questions
- Learning how to adjust when you take a case beyond your areas of expertise
- Debunking the top 10 excuses for taking a bad case
- Building discipline into the case selection process
- Declining the poorly-matched client
- Preparing effective nonengagement and disengagement letters
- Embracing the lawyer’s Bill of Rights
I anticipate offering this program again in 2017.
All Rights Reserved  Beverly Michaelis