March 2020
Practical Tips for Avoiding Malpractice During COVID-19 Pandemic
The COVID-19 pandemic has created an atmosphere of uncertainty in a relatively short period of time. To prevent the spread of the disease, government and health officials encourage social distancing, which includes working remotely. This situation presents added difficulties for attorneys, who must navigate ethical and malpractice considerations while managing changes to the work environment and court systems. 

To help navigate these issues, Lawyers Mutual offers the following tips for avoiding malpractice and ethics violations during the COVID-19 crisis.

Communicate with clients. Even when times are good, clients often complain that attorneys fail to return phone calls or emails timely. Now that clients are stressed, timely communication is more important than ever. Rule 1.4 requires that lawyers keep clients “reasonably informed about the status of the matter.” To maintain a healthy standard of care, follow these recommendations.
  • Make sure clients are aware of any changes in your office status as early as possible. Be sure to post these changes on your office door, voicemail, website, and social media. Also send email communications to clients with your action plan. Reconfirming meeting dates and times is a worthy extra step.
  • Reach out to clients proactively. Not only does this make happier clients overall, you are providing them with peace of mind in a challenging situation. 
  • Consider adding an automated message to general email boxes noting that your response time may be longer than usual as staff transition to remote work status. Manage expectations.
  • When meeting with a client by phone or video, be sure to verify that you are indeed meeting with your client. Ask a question that only the client knows the answer. Confirm that you are speaking in private and that there is no one else in the room with the client unless they are an agreed upon party.

Maintain your calendar . Missing a deadline is one of the main causes of malpractice claims. Most deadlines remain in effect and are not impacted by Chief Justice Beasley’s extension orders. If you have any questions, refer to our March 19 malpractice alert or call one of our claims attorneys. Be vigilant with monitoring your calendar. Have all team members double-check deadlines and due dates and perhaps implement a daily calendar update.   
  • Check the court schedule regularly.
  • Have a backup system in place in the event the person responsible for a deadline is sick.
  • File your case electronically, if possible. Test your ability to do so working remotely if you have not done so.
  • Determine if videoconferencing or teleconferencing is possible in lieu of a physical meeting or appearance.
  • For solos, have a trusted colleague in your community serve as your back up designee should you become ill.

Don’t forget your mail . While you and your staff are working remotely, important documents are arriving in the office mail box. Execute a strategy to have someone sort and source mail in specified intervals. Consider scanning mail to staff members.

Confidentiality and cybersecurity . Your clients’ data must remain secure and confidential during this situation. While working remotely, it is essential that you have safeguards in place to protect your clients.
  • For best results, require staff to only use office issued equipment, not a personal device, and use a VPN connection. Setting up multi-factor authentication is highly recommended.
  • Client data should not be stored on a personal device. This includes personal cloud storage space. Be sure to clearly designate where client data is stored while working remotely.
  • Practice due diligence with email communications. Criminals will use this crisis to enact scams, so be very careful before clicking on attachments or links in emails. Lawyers Mutual advises using a file-sharing program such as Citrix ShareFile or Dropbox.

Observe health and hygiene recommendations . As hard as you try, you may not be able to avoid all in-person meetings. Office hygiene is vital to ensure the safety of your staff and clients and your own well-being.
  • Keep hand sanitizer available in all publicly accessible areas.
  • DO NOT shake hands as a greeting at this time.
  • Sanitize all surfaces, such as conference room tables, pens, chair arms and door handles, before and after meeting with a client or visitor.

Ask for help . The COVID-19 pandemic is an unusual situation. Feeling stressed, overwhelmed, and anxious are normal reactions. Taking care of client work while making adjustments to back-end operations can lead to mistakes, which just makes you feel worse. If this shift is a bit too much, don’t forget that resources such as LAP and BarCARES are available to you.

Additional risk management resources: