With the end of one year and the beginning of the next, it’s a great time to take action to keep your practice running smoothly and keep yourself in check from an ethics standpoint.
Here are some tasks that should be hitting your to-do list this week.
Review Your Archives
Take a look at what you’ve put in cold storage, both in hard copy and electronically. Hopefully, you have a document destruction policy in place. You will want to follow that policy in going through your old files and tossing what has expired.
As you go through your archives, you will find files you will be able to throw out soon. Make a note of those files and calendar them. Don’t wait until your next scheduled cull through the tombs to delete them.
Clear Out Your Current Files
Once there is room in your archives, go through your current files. You probably are sitting on some open files that are not open anymore.
- Archive according to procedures. When you have current client files ready to go to the archives, be sure to put them away in compliance with file closing procedures. (If you don’t have those in place, it’s a very good time to draft them, including sending a closing letter, reconciling your trust account, and refunding any unearned fees.)
- Archive current operating files. Operating and administrative files can grow bloated and create a mess in your filing cabinet. Close out current year files and start fresh ones for next year. Put this year’s files in your archives.
If you do not have space, consider scanning files and then destroying the originals. Even if you think the records are available elsewhere (such as bank statements from the institution), keep the statements on hand if you can. While many records are available from the original source, the time and effort required getting them can be costly. In terms of ethics inquiries, the faster you can respond with copies of those records, the better.
Just before the year closes is also an excellent time to take stock of where you stand with Uncle Sam. If you are a solo or small firm, check on whether you have gotten your quarterly payments in, and if not, rectify it. There is no point in getting hit with an underpayment penalty.
On the personal side, check in on your retirement contributions and college savings accounts. It’s a good time to make sure you have made your yearly contributions (or have a plan in place to make them by April 15) and to check your investment allocations.
Get Your Credit Reports
Among the issues you may find on your credit report are accounts or judgments that could come back to haunt you before ethics regulators. You may also find problems that could impact your ability to borrow to expand your firm, take on a large contingency case, or meet other goals you have set for your practice.
Assess Your Vendor Relationships
Check on the vendors you have been using this year and see if they remain your best choice. Can you get a better deal on your Internet, timekeeping software, cell phone, office space, or any other service you use?
Check on discounts available through your state bar or any organization of which you are a member.
The fresh new year is when you can put in place new streamlined practices and procedures. Revisit (or draft for the first time) your client intake form, file opening procedures, calendar system, billing processes, file maintenance practices, file closing procedures, monthly trust account reconciliation process, timekeeping practices, and any other office procedures used in your practice.
Routinize Career Management
Whether you are a BigLaw associate or a solo practitioner, there are things you can be doing in your practice to keep yourself on the straight and narrow and up your odds of career success. Everyone’s list will look different, but it may include such items as attend monthly networking functions, review subject matter periodicals when they come in, write a publication quarterly, blog weekly, or whatever other tasks will boost your career and keep you focused on your practice.
In addition to being good for marketing, networking can be a buffer for ethics problems, because a lot of problems can be avoided if you have a network to fall back. So be sure to include some network development on your list.
Continuing Legal Education
Take stock of your CLE requirements, deadlines, and how close you are to meeting your requirements. If the office is slow, take advantage and pick up some courses where you can. Organizations you belong to may offer free webinars, as do some mainstream vendors. If you are not in a hurry at deadline time, you can pick up a lot of free CLE credits.
The new year is a great time to set yourself up for success and refresh your practice. Take the time to put in place the tools for a great and prosperous year.