Mistakes happen. To all of us. We are humans after all!
But mistakes can usually be fixed. But they can only be fixed if they’re acknowledged. So here’s the crucial thing to remember about mistakes – as soon as you know you’ve made one, make sure you immediately tell the person who needs to know about the mistake. It may be your supervisor or the senior partner working on the file. It may be the client. Covering up mistakes only compounds the problem. So ‘fess up and solve the problem.
Here are a couple of examples:
You send out a letter by fax. It’s going to the client and all other defence counsel but you print up an old fax cover sheet and it includes the fax number of counsel for the plaintiff. You’re in hurry, it’s late in the day, there’s a deadline, you send the letter to all the right people, plus the wrong person.
You have binders and binders of documents from your client’s list of documents. Included in these binders is a single small binder of privileged documents. Opposing counsel is coming to look at the documents and you put the binders into a boardroom. You include the binder of privileged documents.
Think about these mistakes from the other side for a moment.
If you were plaintiff’s counsel and you received a letter clearly not meant for you, what would you do? Of course you would immediately destroy the letter – without reading it – and call counsel on the other side and let them know what you’ve done. If you were opposing counsel and found a binder of privileged documents in the binders you were reviewing, what would you do? Put the binder aside and immediately bring it to the attention of the person who provided you the binders. Mistakes made by other counsel or their staff are about your integrity. You cannot take advantage of a mistake and no other counsel should take advantage of your mistake. But in order to avoid the possibility that opposing counsel has read the letter or the binder of privileged documents by mistake, you have options. If a letter has been sent to opposing counsel by mistake, immediately telephone that counsel and tell them what has happened. If you can’t reach counsel, speak to the assistant. Ask them to destroy the letter. Follow up by immediately sending a letter repeating the request. Then let your client know what has happened so that if a problem arises from this mistake, they are prepared for it. If you have missed a deadline by mistake, call opposing counsel. Apologize for missing the deadline and ask them to grant you what time you need to complete the document. Remember that you’re asking them for a favour so don’t push for too much time.
The decision as to whether the client needs to know of the mistake should be made by senior counsel. In some cases, the problem is fixed and the client doesn’t need to know it has happened. In others, it is imperative that the client knows so that damage control can be done.
In the end, the most important thing to do is to figure out a way to adopt best practices to help you be more attentive to details (ie checklists) so that the same mistake doesn’t happen again. If you’ve sent a letter by fax to the wrong party, check every fax carefully before it is sent out to ensure that only those who should be receiving the fax do receive it. If identifying privileged binders is a problem, mark them with yellow labels.
Mistakes do happen, but remember that we can learn from them and use the knowledge to make our systems as mistake-proof as possible.
It often happens that support staff move from a large law firm to a smaller one. This transition can be stressful because small firms work quite differently than large ones. In order to make the transition as smoooth as possible, here are a few best practices:
There is a difference between professional skills and professionalism. When we talk about personal presentation – both when you are job hunting and when you are on the job – we are talking about professionalism.
Professionalism may be easy to say but it is not that easy to achieve, especially early in your career. It takes time to learn what is and what is not appropriate. One of the best pieces of advice you can follow is to find the person in your office (or if you are still looking for a job, in your life) who best exemplifies the way you want to present yourself. Emulate them. Watch what they do and how they do it. Watch how they treat people and think about how they are treated in return.
If you present yourself well, people will respond to you on a more positive level. It is human nature to respond to others in the way they present themselves. If you present yourself with dignity and grace, people will respond to you that way.
These few aspects of professionalism will help set you apart from other applicants or other staff:
Here are some easy ways to polish up your presentation:
In my BF, yesterday was supposed to be the day to beginning updating the BC Civil Litigation Guide about the new changes to SCBC rules of court that should come into effect on July 1, 2017. (My academic work makes it easier when I recruit for firms.)
This year, I have nothing to update except for reviewing ANs and PDs. True, there is no rule that says rule changes need to come into effect on July 1 each year.
And it has been like that for a long time.
That there won't be any this year should not come as a surprise. We can point to the results of our recent provincial election; though if the government wanted to, they could have easily legislated the changes before the election, just like in 2013.After asking around at the Ministry of Justice, I concluded that there are other significant issues that have led to no rule changes at this time.
I pressed my source for a probable date, the short reply: can't say when.
You remember the excitement last March 31 2016 when the SCBC Rules Committee, comprised of judges and senior counsel, resigned en masse to protest our government’s decision to repeal a change to costs for fast track actions and changes to the civil tariff, Appendix B, party and party costs scheduled to come into effect July 1, 2016?
On December 19, 2016, our AG announced that they have formed a B.C. Supreme Court Rules Committee to provide advice and make recommendations on changes to court rules that are fair, sustainable and have the public’s confidence.
This led me to write: SCBC Rules Committee: Who's In Charge? (read it here). SCBC CJ Hinkson in responding to my question went further to say: "For now, I am the liaison between our Committee and hers, so if you have suggestions they can be directed to my attention."
Now what? It is possible that the SCBC will rely on issuing AN, PDs and NTPs. It appears to be the case when I compare 2016 to year to date of 2017.
While it has not issued any ANs in 2016, it has issued #13 and 14 (see below) this year; it issued 2 PDs last year and #52 to 54 this year; and it issued one NTP in 2016 and none this year.
I reached CJ Hinkson yesterday, his answer: "As yet, there is nothing that I can report."
Administrative Notice 14: a reflection of slippage in practice standards?
It appears that the standards for court filings coming from firms may be slipping. This is my read on the latest Administrative Notice from Chief Justice Hinkson as he observed that "often these have no external cover page which identifies who filed it and to what court proceeding it relates. On many occasions, no contact information for counsel or the parties is provided. This is troublesome and time consuming for the registry."
AN 14 became effective on June 12, 2017.Rare it is to see an administrative notice used as a reminder from his court.
So please take heed on the stipulated requirements for an external cover page which will aid the SCBC in the more efficient management of these documents, which in turn, aid you.
Click here for your copy of the notice.
I can't go to the beach just yet, the rule changes in the PCBC need attending to.
To learn more about AN, PDs and NTPs; the intricacies of chamber applications; and trial preparation rules; please refer to your copy the BC Civil Litigation Guide. Here is how to order a copy of BC Civil Litigation Guide.
As well, if you are interested in training in the fundamentals of civil litigation, write me.
I remember opening my first bank account a long time ago, I appreciated that the heavy doric columns that greeted me were symbols of tradition. The big balustrades symbolized stability. Banks are not what they were a long time ago. I wrote about the ongoing frustration with bank induced errors, in one instance I recommended to the administrator to fire their bank. (She hasn't.)
Earlier today, I drove to the parking lot of Lansdowne Mall to look for a 20 foot container re-purposed as a branch of Tangerine Bank (owned by Scotiabank). I spoke to the representative and was relieved to know that they had sound client identification and verification procedures in place. You can open an account online but you still need to come in with your ID and your SIN.
The rest is done electronically or you can go to the ATM machines of any Scotiabank (but you cannot transact with a teller).
Better interest rates notwithstanding, how many of you would open trust accounts with Tangerine Bank?
In our classes like Law Office Accounting and Trust Accounting, we talk about the difference between a bank and a credit union. These two groups are used by law firms the most. Here is a list of banks who are licensed to operate in Canada. Here is a list of credit unions who are licensed to operate in BC.
Do you prefer doing business with a bank or credit union? Is the insurance coverage enough to offset the lack of credit union branches?
The expansive definition of financial institution is:
As you can see, there are other financial institutions. Odlum Brown for example, are used by lawyers acting as a fiduciary and are managing funds held in such an accounts. Let me leave you with this thought, given your firm's needs, what makes for a good financial institution.
To firms looking for competent trust account staff, write or call me at 6046852727.
Our Provincial Court of BC has to be one of the most innovative courts in Canada. (Read McKenzie Friends, social media, the expansion of what judicial case managers' roles and court assignment system.)
On June 1, 2017, for claims up to $5000 (with a few exceptions), parties will be directed to resolve their claim using the online Civil Resolution Tribunal (CRT), under the Small Claims Act. Our provincial court hopes to see a significant number of cases being resolved outside its courts using technology.
There are 3 attractive aspects to the CRT:
1. The on-line dispute resolution will be in 3 phases: negotiation, facilitation and adjudication. There is still a way to be heard by a judge.
2. Here are the areas of coverage:
Click here for your copy of the notice
We will be releasing these in July, please refer to your copy of the BC Civil Litigation Guide. As well, if you are interested in training in the fundamentals of civil litigation, write me.
Talk about robots and artificial intelligence is going on these days. It inevitably surfaces when firms engage me to recruit legal support staff because machines can be trained to deliver consistent service without the many human attitudes and bad habits that seem to surface.
Some of you might have taken this test that was posted by the BBC: Will a robot take your job? That there would be a 3.5% chance for barristers, solicitors and judges did not come as a surprise. The sobering forecast was there would be a 97.6% chance for legal secretaries (or legal administrative assistants, as we call them in YVR).
Soon I think, unless, you have found a way to make yourself truly indispensable to your lawyer and the firm. It does not matter whether you are a floater or receptionist or a twenty year paralegal, you can become the go-to person in your office. You can be the person who everyone goes to if they have a problem they can not solve.
Sound difficult? It is not simple, nothing worthwhile ever is, but it can be done. Because being the go-to person involves more than experience, more than legal knowledge, more than skills. It involves the right attitude and mindset, and I am not sure if there is an algorithm for a robot to use to get the right attitude and mindset.
Here are seven ways you can do to robot-proof yourself and be valued as the go-to person in your office.
There is no reason you can not become the go-to person in your office. Just not try these simple steps and you will see how easy it is. You will also see how not satisfying it is to really master not just your job, but your place in the legal community. If you need a hand in preparing to move to a new workplace, write me.
A number of small practitioners have rung me up recently to talk about their staffing needs. One in particular struck me with his lament. "I need a secretary, Dom, they are not called that anymore, right? I need someone to help keep my clients' confidential matters. I have been sitting on this for some time now, since Spring time." Prodded a little bit more on why they have not hired one, it seemed that the last few they have hired have fallen short of their expectations. "I hired Mary 25 years ago, when I was just starting my practice, she was the one who showed me the ropes. I have lost count on how many times she saved my bacon. She knew what was more important. She knew when to chime in, but for the most part, she just did her work. Quietly. Too bad she retired. The young ones are not like her. High maintenance."
I could not help but think about Star Trek's resident Betazoid Deanna Troi, who possessed a high level of emotional empathy (EQ); she served as an effective counselor to Captain Picard. In the real world, EQ is harnessed over time, often just by working with the lawyer closely.
(Photo courtesy of www.startrek.com)
I acknowledged that they were right: finding someone who had a high EQ would be challenging, but the key is to design a concise and clear job description to reflect your expectations. I told them: "A good place to start is to analyze the job as it exists today. Ask yourself what the work outcomes and descriptions of the tasks to achieve the outcomes are. Next update it for what you would like job to look like. Consider your practice plans, are you expanding or contracting specific practice areas?"
Lisa Dawson, having practiced as a small firm administrator for over 20 years, suggests that your job description should include:
For more, read here.
If you have staffing needs, check out our website here. Or connect with me.
Here are the other courses this Fall:
Notable firm management and trust accounting resources and webinars here.
So we get a little intense in our trust accounting class when we talk about why law firms love banks. Or not. All those mistakes they make, despite what firm staff do from writing instructions to calling in advance, trust account instructions seem to fall on deaf ears. Errors continue to occur.
A week after presenting Trust Accounting 101, I was invited by the administrator of a small firm to talk about their human resources needs (Law Courts Center has begun helping firms recruit staff.) But before we could get into that conversation. my host just had to vent. A little.
Her trust account person had gone on her holidays, and so she took over operating the trust accounts. In a span of a week, her bank made two errors. Exasperated she said: "What a huge waste of time!"
She bemoaned their inability to pick up the phone to call someone in their branch because the bank recently moved their client services to Toronto. (Years ago, a branch manager told me that the most expensive part of banking is having a branch, and long bank hours are costly.)
The law firm has been doing business with their bank for decades; and despite the continuous bank fees increases, the service levels keep declining, they just put up with it. I suggested cutting the umbilical cord. My host replied: "Our managing partner won't go for it!"
First, let me address the Division 7 matter. As trust funds are the clients money, every penny must be accounted for.
So I asked LSBC Trust Assurance Audit Team Leader Tina Kaminski , one of our co-instructors, these 3 questions.
To read the rest, go here.
If you want to learn more, consider joining us for:
Notable firm management and trust accounting resources and webinars here.
As I visit various firms to learn more about their recruiting needs, I get to watch legal administrative receptionists field calls from clients, which made me want to share my views on angry client phone calls.
It happens. Clients phone and they are angry. They are angry because the lawyer has not called them back; they are angry because they have been served with a Notice of Civil Claim; and, they are angry because they have received your account and it is way too much.
What do you do about an angry caller?
First, recognize that they are not angry at you. Second, you have to approach this as an opportunity to work with the angry client to resolve their complaint instead of just dealing with them. Remember, you are also a member of the firm and have duties to the client, according to the Code of Professional Conduct for BC.
So, listen to their complaint. Sometimes all they want is someone who will listen to them. Take notes of what they are saying.
When they are finished, take the time to read your notes back to them. Once they are satisfied with your notes, tell them you will have the lawyer return their call.
Review your notes right away: are there things that you can prepare for the lawyer to make it easier for them to resolve the client's complaints?
Working with unhappy clients, challenging as it is, is an opportunity to improve the relations with the client.