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accept or refer it. If you sometimes accept monthly payments
from clients, consider including appropriate credit qualification
questions in your intake form. Review and redraft your intake
forms from time to time as the law changes and your experiences with previous clients dictate.
Many solos and small firms depend on circulated client intake
sheets and their memories to check for conflicts of interest. This
is just about as safe as jumping out of a plane without a parachute.
Your conflict system should capture information about clients
and related parties, such as spouses and witnesses, and the nature
also whenever a new party enters a matter. The system should
also prompt you to review, from time to time, for conflicts among
parties when you represent multiple plaintiffs or defendants.
Although most jurisdictions do not require written fee agreements for every representation, they are always a good idea. Fee
agreements help set the ground rules for you and the client by
delineating what work you will—and will not—do, and what
obligations the client has to participate in and assist with during
the representation. Limited-scope representation requires that
all discrete tasks be spelled out and all changes to the scope of
work be reflected in writing, signed by the client. While full
representation doesn’t require such detail, it’s a great idea to
be as thorough as possible while keeping your agreements at a
manageable length. Review and revise your fee agreements and
engagement letters periodically, as needed.
of the relationships. It should also include information about
your staff members and their immediate families, and any business or investment transactions you are involved in that could
potentially create a conflict of interest with existing or new
clients. The system should make information easy to enter and
retrieve, and you or your staff members should follow a checklist
that ensures that a conflict check is performed and documented
not only when you sign up a new client but
NONENGAGEMENT AND DISENGAGEMENT
It’s just as important to know with certainty which clients you
don’t represent as which ones you do. Develop an appropriate
letter that will properly inform potential clients that you do not
represent them when you’ve had discussions about representation but ultimately do not agree to accept a case. Likewise, draft
a disengagement letter that can be sent to clients who fail to
live up to the terms of your fee agreement by failing to make
agreed-upon payments or otherwise cooperate and assist in the
representation. Make sure that your system prompts you to send
these letters when fee agreements are not signed and returned,
fee and cost deposits are not received by the due date or monthly
payments are not received as agreed.
Your office systems for accepting new clients should experience as few problems as possible during deployment. Repack
your parachutes today for profitable jumps and safe, happy
BY LAURA A. CALLOWAY
Laura A. Calloway is director of the Alabama State Bar’s Practice Management Assistance
Program and a past chair of ABA TECHSHOW.