Listening to your law clerks and legal assistants can help you avoid claims
I’ve been gossiping with your staff lately.
Here at LAWPRO, we have a push on to subscribe law clerks and legal assistants to our magazine and electronic newsletters. We’re doing this because we realize that legal assistants are the “front line” responsible for many of the tasks essential to claims avoidance. In many of your offices, staff take primary responsibility for running conflicts checks, populating the tickler system (and alerting you to deadlines), opening and filing mail, and taking the calls you’ll need to return.
When a law clerk or legal assistant calls me to subscribe to a publication, I try to remember to ask him or her what we might write about that would make life easier, whether for the staff or for the lawyers in the firm. Recently one of these callers gave an immediate and unequivocal answer: “Just remind my boss to (promptly) DO the things I ask him to do!” (She did say “him”; but I have no doubt there are many women lawyers out there who are equally recalcitrant.)
Of course, it’s your practice. Your billable work brings in the revenue that pays for your assistant’s salary, and you likely feel you’ve earned the right to decide which tasks merit your immediate attention. But we’d like to suggest that your well-trained staff should be encouraged to use their judgment to determine when a task is urgent, and to assertively request that you complete it.
For example, we’ve seen a disconcerting spike in claims, in the past two years, flowing from courts’ application of Rule 48 of the Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides for administrative dismissal of actions for delay. This rule requires the Registrar to send you a notice 90 days in advance of any such dismissal. Train your staff to recognize the urgency of these notices and to bring them to your attention, and then let them do what you pay them for: keep you looking sharp and claims-free.