Revisiting eFiling Tips

Are you an eFiling expert? Even so, it never hurts to refresh your memory on the
“best of” eFiling tips. Here are some from our friends at Smokeball, purveyors of law practice management software:

Use a separate and distinct eFiling email address
This ensures that important court notices won’t get buried in your unread work or personal messages.

Check your spam and junk email folders
Court mail lands here more often than you might think.

Whitelist important senders
While not full proof, this step at least offers some assurance that messages are more likely to make it to your inbox. Learn more here.

Check the online court docket
This is a simple and effective way to verify that you’ve captured important court deadlines in your calendar.

Don’t wait until the last-minute
Last-minute filings are more likely to go wrong than right. Give yourself a cushion of time to do the job right – and recover from any mistakes.

Sound familiar? I’ve made these same points many times here, in CLEs, and elsewhere. See Nuts and Bolts of Oregon eCourt and Zero Tolerance for e-Filing Error.

Are you an eFiling novice?

If so, check out the “Oregon eFiling Checklist for First Time eFiler,” on the Professional Liability Fund website. From the homepage, select Practice Management > Forms > eCourt. For a thorough overview of eCourt malpractice traps, see my 2017 CLE.

The case for Oregon eService

Read the October issue of the Oregon State Bar Bulletin featuring “The Case for Oregon eService: An Underused Asset.” If you missed the Oregon eService CLE earlier this year, consider ordering the video or audio recording. Answers to frequently asked questions may be found here.

All Rights Reserved – 2018 – Beverly Michaelis

The Continuum of Client Communication

We communicate with clients along a continuum – using emails, texts, letters, phone calls, video conferences, and in-person meetings.  When selecting a communication medium, what drives your choice?

 

When Your Convenience Determines How You Communicate

Choosing a communication medium that is most convenient for you is understandable. Odds are you’re busy, maybe overwhelmed.  You have information to convey and want to pass it along to the client quickly and easily.  More likely than not, you’ll fire off an email, maybe a text, or post a document and notify the client to login to your secure client portal.

  • This is perfectly fine if the information you have to convey is cut and dried: not controversial, unexpected, upsetting, or likely to provoke a series of questions.
  • For best results, prime clients at the first client meeting. Let them know to expect emails, texts, etc. when you have routine information to convey.

When Client Convenience Rules Communication

Some might argue this should be the gold standard 100% of the time: choose the communication method the client prefers or finds most convenient.

While I understand the spirit behind this point of view, it ignores some important realities. Consider this typical scenario: Client sends you a question by email or text, but is unclear in what she is asking or leaves out key details.  In the name of letting the client control the means of communication, you can:

  • Begin an inefficient exchange of messages in an attempt to clarify the question.
  • Spend an inordinate amount of time “issue spotting,” then answer every conceivable variation of the client’s real question.

Have I made this mistake?  Yes, indeed.  But the goal here is to do better. Neither of these choices is a good way to go.

  • Client convenience/preference can rule when you have straightforward information to convey.  [Spot a theme here?]
  • If the client is being murky, don’t text or email.  Pick up the phone.  You’ll get to bottom of the real question far more quickly.  Send back a quick message: “Let me call you to discuss this.  Is 2:00 p.m. a good time?”

Purposely Choosing a Communication Method that is Inconvenient for the Client

If we’re being truthful, most lawyers have done this at one time or the other.  You leave a voicemail at home because you know the client is at work.  You send an email late at night when the client is likely to be sleeping.  You mail a letter instead of picking up the phone to talk.

Avoidance, much?

If you occasionally choose a means of communication that avoids contact with your clients, don’t worry about it.  You might legitimately go this route to simply get something done.  [Your convenience is driving how you communicate.]

But if you find yourself avoiding clients (plural) repeatedly (chronically), stop and reflect. Most lawyers who choose an “avoidance” means of communication are doing it because:

  • They anticipate the client will be unhappy about whatever information it is they have to convey – or –
  • The client is already unhappy [which could be reasonable or unreasonable]

Chronic avoidance can become chronic procrastination, which is a no-win for everyone. Lawyers who repeatedly procrastinate are anxious, stressed, and sometimes depressed. They find it impossible to break the self-perpetuating cycle of avoidance: as clients become more and more unhappy because the lawyer isn’t communicating, the lawyer retreats even more – not checking email, not opening postal mail, allowing voicemail to fill up, not reading texts.

If you see yourself going down this path, or if you are looking for resources and advice on how to communicate bad news to clients, help is only a phone call away.  Contact the Oregon Attorney Assistance Program.  Assistance is free, confidential, and non-judgmental. Outside Oregon? There are national hotlines and lawyer assistance programs in other states.

Communicating in a Way that Builds and Supports Client Relationships

At the risk of revealing my bias, this is the sweet spot where you should strive to be.  So before talking on the phone really does become a lost art, try to cultivate a “relationship” approach when you communicate.  Follow these guidelines:

  • Talk about communication at your initial client meeting.  Let the client know what to expect and set the tone.
    • My goal is to keep you informed at all times during your case.  I will email (upload) routine updates and documents.
    • If you have a question, feel free to call (text, or email) me.  I set aside (mornings) (afternoons) to return calls and messages.
    • If the answer to your question is complicated, or if I need more information to give you an answer, I may ask to set up a telephone or video conference.
    • I like to meet with clients in person to (talk about settlement offers, prepare for deposition, prepare for trial, etc.)  If you want to meet in person, feel free to (call my assistant or me) any time to set up an appointment.
    • You are welcome to drop off documents (any time, after 1:00 p.m.).  If you want to talk (leave me a note or speak to my assistant so we can schedule a time to meet).
  • Consider the information you need to convey and remember your goal in communicating:  you’re trying to build and support a better client relationship.
    • Convey bad news in person, by video conference, or over the phone.
    • Discussing something complicated?  Use the same approach.
    • Is your client prone to anxiety?  Do you anticipate the client will have a host of questions?  Ditto on the approach.

Potential Legal Malpractice

If you’re an Oregon lawyer, call the Professional Liability Fund at 1-800-452-1639 and ask to speak to an on-call claims attorney in any of the following circumstances:

  • You believe you committed malpractice
  • The client is threatening to sue or is asserting you malpracticed
  • You are served with a summons and complaint

Firing a Troublesome Client

Sometimes the communication issue really boils down to the fact that you need to fire your client.  Read more about firing clients here.  Carefully review “Withdrawal from Litigation: Client Confidences,” OSB Formal Opinion 2011-185, Scott Morrill, Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: How to End a Relationship, Part II, and Helen Hierschbiel, Tying Up Loose Ends: How to End a Relationship.

[All Rights Reserved 2016 Beverly Michaelis]

Postscript

For another twist on the subject of client communication, see Linn Davis, Good Communications: Keeping Clients and Ethical Obligations Satisfied.

Discounts for Oregon Lawyers

10-12-2015 4-25-49 PMIn 2015 the Professional Liability Fund added WordRake, Client Conflict Check, MyCase, and Zama to its discount lineup.  But did you know that we offer discounts on five other products?  Visit our website to learn more.

The PLF offers discounts on cloud-based practice management software, including MyCase, conflict checking software (Client Conflict Check), and business productivity software (WordPerfect, PDF Fusion, and Perfect Authority).

WordRake, one of our newest offerings, is editing and proofreading software geared to the legal profession:

WordRake tightens, tones, and clarifies your writing. Just click the “rake” button and watch the in-line editor ripple through your document, suggesting edits to remove clutter and improve unclear phrasing, just like a live editor. Give your first drafts the polish of a second or third draft, quickly and painlessly.

Watch a 30-second demo here.

Zama is a news, alerts, and content monitoring service:

Zama mines over 70,000 news, information, and social media sources so you don’t have to. Easily find the information to help grow your business and strengthen client relationships.  Organizations that use Zama include Oregon law firms Ball Janik LLP and Karnopp Petersen LLP.

To better understand how Zama works (and might apply to your practice), read this blog post by Bob Ambrogi: New Service Helps Solos, Small Firms Monitor News Relevant to their Practices.

We are always on the lookout for ways to help Oregon lawyers save money and hope to add more discount programs to our lineup soon.

All Rights Reserved [2015] Beverly Michaelis

Practice Alerts for Oregon Lawyers

Professional Liability Fund Practice Alerts are a quick, easy way for Oregon lawyers to stay informed about developing legal news and practice management announcements.

With an RSS feed you can subscribe to alerts and receive new posts automatically in your browser or e-mail inbox  without the need to login or monitor the PLF website.  Examples of recent post topics include:

  • Are you eCourt Ready?
  • Temporary eFiling Restrictions Lifted
  • UTCR 21.140 Amended Out-of-Cycle
  • Office Productivity in the Cloud: Is Office 365 Right for You?
  • eCourt Service Status – Temporary eFiling Restrictions
  • eCourt Mandatory effective December 1, 2014

You can also follow the Professional Liability Fund on social media, including:

Social media accounts are used to share news, events, CLE announcements, job opportunities, discounts, and useful practice tips.

Stay in touch!

[All Rights Reserved – 2015 – Beverly Michaelis]