Should MCLE Requirements Follow Emerging Trends?

The Washington Supreme Court Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) Board says yes.

As reported by NW Sidebar, the board voted to send such an amendment to the Washington BOG for its approval. The proposed changes would require one credit hour each of:

  • Equity, inclusion, and anti-bias,
  • Mental health and addiction, and
  • Technology education focusing on digital security

per MCLE reporting period. The three credit hours would be part of WSBA’s ethics requirement (six credits overall).

Where Oregon Stands

Equity, inclusion, and anti-bias

Presently, Oregon requires three introductory Access to Justice (AJ) credits per reporting period. Equity, inclusion, and anti-bias are often folded into Access to Justice programming. For examples of AJ CLEs, visit the PLF Website.

Mental health and addiction

Beginning January 1, 2019, all Oregon State Bar members are required to obtain one credit hour per reporting period on the subject of mental health, substance use and cognitive impairment (MHSU). You can learn more about MHSU credit here.

The Oregon Attorney Assistance Program (OAAP) has a wide variety of past CLE programs that qualify for MHSU credit. To find MHSU programming, visit the PLF website. Under “Credit Type,” choose Mental Health and Substance Use, then click the blue SEARCH button.

On October 17, 2019 in Bend, Oregon the OAAP will present “Supporting Lawyer Well-Being: What is Your Role?” The program includes an optional reception and social with fellow Deschutes County attorneys and the Professional Liability Fund Board of Directors. For more information, or to register, click here. The CLE and social are free.

Technology education – Digital Security

Oregon does not yet require explicit training on issues of digital security, but don’t be surprised if this is added to our curriculum.

Oregon and Washington seem to follow each other in tandem when it comes to policy changes, such as MCLE requirements. Further, the Oregon bar has already made clear that competent representation includes competent use of technology and protection of clients’ digital information. Can a new MCLE credit be far behind?

All Rights Reserved 2019 Beverly Michaelis

 

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

Legal News and Upcoming Events

Is Mandatory Malpractice Coverage Coming to Washington?

Mandatory malpractice coverage is well known by Oregon lawyers and may be coming soon to members of the Washington bar (WSBA).

In July, the WSBA Mandatory Malpractice Insurance Task Force presented a tentative recommendation to the Board of Governors (BOG) to mandate malpractice insurance for Washington-licensed lawyers. The task force expects to present a final report to the BOG in four short months.

Next steps include:

  1. Considering feedback from the Board of Governors;
  2. Ramping up information efforts among WSBA members, and obtaining and considering additional comments received;
  3. Detailing the recommended malpractice insurance mandate, including the specific
    required coverage minimums;
  4. Identifying in detail the recommended exemptions from the professional liability
    insurance requirement; and
  5. Drafting a proposed Court Rule for the Board of Governor’s consideration

Members may submit comments to insurancetaskforce@wsba.org. The task force continues to meet monthly through the end of the year. Read the interim report here.

Free Access to PACER

This past week, the ABA Journal reported a potential end to PACER fees:

A new bill before the U.S House of Representatives would prohibit the federal courts from charging for public documents. The Electronic Court Records Reform Act would require that documents downloaded from the PACER database be free. Currently, the repository for federal court documents charges up to 10 cents a page.

The article notes that PACER has become a reliable money-maker for federal courts, pulling in $150 million in fees in 2015 alone.

Of further interest to federal court practitioners, the proposed bill would require documents to be posted to PACER within five days of being filed in federal court in a manner that allows for easy searching and linking from external websites.

Additionally, it would require consolidation of the Case Management/Electronic Case Files (CM/ECF) system, allowing for one-stop shopping when searching for federal court cases. Presently, each court operates its own separate CM/ECF system.

Free Data Breach CLEs in Bend and Medford

The Professional Liability Fund is offering two free data breach CLES in October:

These CLEs will explain data breach, what you can do to protect your client’s information, your ethical duties, and what to do if a breach occurs. For more information, follow the links above. Register for the Bend CLE by emailing DeAnna Shields at deannas@osbplf.org. Register for the Medford CLE by emailing Eric B. Mitton at eric.mitton@cityofmedford.org.

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.