Georgia’s Solo & Small Firm Institute is in the Works

Take Charge is a special event.  It’s Georgia’s Solo and Small Firm Institute and it is scheduled for July 14 & 15 at the State Bar Headquarters.  You can see the agenda, register at the early bird rate, and more at the official conference website, www.gabarsolo.org.

Stay tuned for conference updates!

– Natalie & Bill

ABA TECHSHOW 2017 Has Come and Gone!

So, we realize you haven’t heard from us in a while.  If we are ever quiet for long periods of time, it’s always likely for good reason.  This time is no exception.  Beyond our daily grind, ABA TECHSHOW was happening in Chicago from March 15th through the 17th, and as in years past, it was an awe-inspiring and time-consuming venture for those of us interested in law and technology.

The conference this year featured much more diversity in the plenary and educational track sessions.  What a great thing!  It was especially endearing to see our very own General Counsel, Paula Frederick, and Judy Perry Martinez, co-moderating the Keynote Panel discussion with the CEOs of LegalZoom, John Suh; RocketLawyer, Charley Moore;  and AVVO, Mark Britton.  Interesting thoughts were exchanged between the panelists as they navigated questions about the future of legal services given consumers’ changing needs and desires surrounding finding lawyers and legal assistance.  Spoiler Alert: There was no clear winner in this one!

TECHSHOW is always busy with attendees trying to get to know each other and learn and experience so much from educational track sessions and hundreds of vendors in a few short days.  There is just so much!  Yours truly, (me – Natalie), was interviewed alongside a few colleagues at the start of the show on the Legal Talk Network.  This session was well-received and hopefully allowed some new attendees to get ahead in navigating the conference!

ABA TECHSHOW 2017
TECHSHOW 2017 Legal Talk Network Interview with Dennis Kennedy, Natalie Kelly, Jim Calloway and Laurence Colletti

Well, TECHSHOW is known as the best conference for bringing lawyers and technology together, and this year’s event did just that.  If you missed it, as in years past, you can get all caught up via the ABA’s full coverage.  And, don’t forget to keep an eye out for ABA TECHSHOW 2018, which is already being planned!

-Natalie

Want to see us live? Bill & Natalie at State Bar’s Midyear Meeting CLE

Come join us on February 5th, at the State Bar’s Midyear Meeting.  Here are the CLE details and you can register on site!

TECHNOLOGY IN PRACTICE: AVOIDING ETHICAL LANDMINES AND MAXIMIZING TODAY’S TECHNOLOGY SKILLS AND TOOLS

9 A.M. – 12 P.M. | 3 CLE hours

Lawyers have realized they have to understand how to use technology, but knowing what they need to be wary of for ethical compliance and then learning how to best use systems can create concerns. The presenters will discuss hot ethical landmines to steer clear of when using technology; review cutting-edge technologies including an assessment tool geared toward helping lawyers understand their proficiency with commonly used software; and show attendees the new face of Fastcase. Each of the panelists will walk through some of their favorite technology solutions, showing you exactly how they work and explaining the benefits of using them. With the new skills and tools learned in this session, lawyers will be armed to use their current technology better as soon as they leave.

TOPICS:

Ethical Considerations for Today’s Technology:  William J. Cobb, Assistant General Counsel, State Bar of Georgia Office of the General Counsel, Atlanta

The New Face of Fastcase: Presenting Fastcase 7:  mSheila Baldwin, Member Benefits Coordinator, Law Practice Management Program, State Bar of Georgia, Atlanta

Legal Tech Tools and Know-How in 7-Minutes:   Sheila Baldwin; William J. Cobb; Natalie R. Kelly, Director, Law Practice Management Program, State Bar of Georgia, Atlanta Co-Sponsors: Law Practice Management Program, Office of the General Counsel, Young Lawyers Division, State Bar of Georgia

AVVO-type Services and the Georgia Lawyer

Have you claimed your profile? Was it correctly displayed in AVVO? Did you get the rating you think you deserved? What can you really do about that nasty review? We will attempt to work through this quandary for Georgia lawyers. As other jurisdictions have opined in various ways about the proper use and peril of services like AVVO, we felt the need to address it head on. So here goes.

Can a Georgia lawyer sign on and accept their rating? Well, of course, and many have done just that and leveraged higher ratings to boot. There are rumors that higher ratings are attained when lawyers accept and fill in their profiles, and not doing so may be at the heart of some of the concerns we hear about AVVO. Where did they get my information, and what if it’s totally wrong? We’ve heard more than once that a lawyer has never worked in a practice area their AVVO listing proclaims. Likewise, claiming to specialize in certain practice areas is not something to be taken lightly, but again there are some profiles that make these claims without the lawyer even knowing about it in some cases. So, does this now mean the lawyer can be in trouble with the State Bar?

We will talk more about “false and misleading” information later, but for starters, let’s address the use of online directory services like AVVO. As already mentioned, lawyers can use the service, and in most cases, claiming the profile may well be the way to go. Not doing so could indicate the lawyer is not in step with the times. Everyone’s online and most folks check out lawyers they’ve heard about online. Why not make sure your online presence is at its very best by making sure any information out there is correct? Once a profile has been accepted, then the lawyer must decide whether to enhance the profile through add-on services or by linking in additional content. Both tend to increase the ranking of the lawyer’s profile in searches performed using the directory. Again, there are no guarantees, but generally speaking the proactive approach to the profile listing seems to get noticed in the search algorithms used by the online services. So our advice to most lawyers is to get online and check your profile and claim it and add additional content if you are inclined to use the directory as a part of your online marketing campaign. You will just want to be sure you keep up with any content provided by the listing.

Lawyers who for whatever reason do not want to claim their profiles are likely to not be entirely pleased with their options. AVVO will not take down your listing, and we have mixed reports about being able to correct your practice areas without claiming your profile. However, if you have not been disciplined by a licensing bar, AVVO will accept a request that your “ratings not be displayed.” That strips down the profile, but practice areas, years of licensure, and evidently the ability of others to post reviews of you, remain displayed.

But what about unfavorable and inaccurate information? How’s that to be dealt with without skirting or crossing any ethical lines? There are no Georgia Supreme Court decisions or Formal Advisory Opinions addressing inaccurate information on websites like AVVO, but like a lawyer’s own website, you should consider it to be advertising and therefore subject to Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct (GRPC) Rules 7.1 (Communications concerning a Lawyer’s Services), 7.2 (Advertising) and 7.4 (Communication of Fields of Practice). There are a number of specific obligations and prohibitions in those rules, but the overarching requirement is that your communications not be false, fraudulent, deceptive or misleading. It seems unlikely that inaccurate information in an unclaimed AVVO profile would be prosecuted as an ethics violation, since the lawyer played no role in creating or publicizing it. Once you claim a profile, however, it seems obvious that you will be responsible for assuring that its content complies with the above GRPC rules. What to do about unfavorable reviews is a topic unto itself, which we will address next time.

Disclaimer:  Interpretations of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct (ethics rules) and their applicability in this blog post are informal opinions issued pursuant to Bar Rule 4-401.  They are the personal opinions of the Assistant General Counsel co-author, and are neither a defense to any complaint nor binding on the State Disciplinary Board, the Supreme Court of Georgia or the State Bar of Georgia.

-Natalie & Bill

Managing Data in Your Client Files

Psst.!  We have a new co-Author – Bill Cobb, Assistant General Counsel in the State Bar’s Office of the General Counsel.  You will learn more about him later.  

Data is big right now!  How do you secure all of the information that comes into your possession or knowledge, especially the digital data that just doesn’t seem to stop?  For lawyers, it can be a tricky proposition.  One of the most frequent questions we get is, “how long do I have to keep client files,” and while this question has some clear parameters, what about all the other information that is kept on a daily basis by law firms?  What happens to all that data?  Well, perhaps we’ll get to that in some of our next posts, but for now let’s focus just on client file data.

The first thing lawyers can do to better manage data from client files is to create a plan specifically identifying what is to be saved and what is to be destroyed and when.  This plan, of course, will need to ensure proper steps are being taken to comply with the State Bar’s ethics rules, but also any other rules or regulations pertaining to your client’s data.  Because they are so important, let’s spend some time with these rules.

The only State Bar ethics rule (Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct) specifically requiring data retention is one of the trust account rules, 1.15(I)(a): “Complete records of such account funds and other property shall be kept by the lawyer and shall be preserved for a period of six years after termination of the representation.”  The Rule 1.6 obligation of non-disclosure, which continues after the representation ends, means that all retained records pertaining to a client matter, whether required by Rule 1.15(I)(a) or not, should be reasonably secured against inadvertent disclosure.  Beyond that, record retention policies and practices are often determined in consultation with the lawyer’s professional malpractice carrier.

Rule 1.16(d) requires “surrendering papers and property to which the client is entitled” when the representation ends, i.e., returning the client’s file, and you should assume that it includes “papers” in electronic form.  Of course, not all clients want their files, but to protect against allegations of violating Rule 1.16(d), good practice is to give clients a written opportunity to obtain their files before an identified possible destruction date.  The client is entitled to the original file, the lawyer can keep a copy at his/her own expense (unless the client agreed in advance to bear that cost), and the file cannot be withheld due to unpaid fees or copying costs.  Formal Advisory Opinion No. 87-5.  Copies sent to the client during the course of the case may not satisfy this obligation.  Adams v. Putnam County, 290 Ga. App. 20, 21, 658 S.E.2d 805, 807 (2008).  Limited types of documents need not be given to clients. Swift, Currie, McGhee & Hiers v. Henry, 276 Ga. 571, 573 and n.3 (2003).

As for other rules and regulations, make sure you identify the firm’s role in keeping personal confidential information, health information and personal financial records.   Each of these types of data may require special steps.  Check with current regulatory agencies and related entities’ websites and portals for current requirements.

When creating file retention and destruction policies make sure they comply strictly with these rules  and regulations.  Law firms are going to need to be proactive in protecting data obtained for and in the course of representation.  Information gathered for client files before, during and after the representation should be reviewed to ascertain proper management.   To get additional help with your retention and destruction policies, give either the Bar’s Law Practice Management Program or  Ethics Hotline a call to discuss concerns and best practices!

  • Natalie & Bill

Disclaimer:  Interpretations of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct (ethics rules) and their applicability in this blog post are informal opinions issued pursuant to Bar Rule 4-401.  They are the personal opinions of the Assistant General Counsel co-author, and are neither a defense to any complaint nor binding on the State Disciplinary Board, the Supreme Court of Georgia or the State Bar of Georgia.

Take Charge – What a Successful Solo and Small Firm Conference Looks Like

Well, I wasn’t in attendance this year, as I was out on a leave of absence.  Bummer!  But, if what I have heard since my return to work is any indication of what the attendees at this year’s Solo and Small Firm Institute enjoyed, this was a successful solo and small firm conference!  Because pictures can speak louder than words, here’s what you missed if you didn’t attend this year.

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From the bustling Exhibit Hall area to the sometimes standing-room only sessions, attendees are still talking to me about this year’s conference and telling me they are looking forward to attending next year.  You can also check out  the conference as it was featured in the Daily Report, here.

With help from the General Practice and Trial Section and other key sponsors, the Law Practice Management Program and the event’s Chair, Kathleen Womack, were able to showcase presentations from national experts – Sharon Nelson, John Simek and James “Jim” Calloway; and our very own high-profile local experts on all things solo and small firm practice! You can see all of the sessions presented and wonderful presenters listed here.  Thanks everyone for all of your dedication and hard work!

We can’t wait for you to join us next year!  Save the date. July 14th & 15th, 2017!

– Natalie

 

 

DAY 1 at ABA TECHSHOW 2016

Day 1 was a whirlwind of activity. Here’s a quick snapshot:

After a great meeting the day before with the Bar Leader Institute attendees – I presented on a panel on Managing Technology with Catherine Sanders Reach, Danielle Hall, and Jim Calloway at a pre-session – I started the day attending the TECHSHOW Opening Session that directed attendees to educational sessions, the Expo Hall and the James Keane Award Luncheon.

At the Keane Award Luncheon, we were presented with the winning automated services vendor forms service for a Colorado program, and the numbers behind the most recent ABA Legal Technology Survey from my fellow LTRC (Legal Technology Resource Center) Board members.

Later, in the day was able to then look for and prepare for my 4:00 session with Joseph Bahgat — Effective Practice Management Systems Yield Focused Lawyering. This session was packed with attendees and started rocky with me, Joe and the conference hotel’s A/V guy fighting with the presentation technology. After our apologies though, the session went smoothly and based on the great comments afterwards, I was comfortable calling it a success!

The evening ended with my attending the 30th Anniversary celebration of TECHSHOW, where I was introduced as one of the former TECHSHOW Chairs (2014) by fellow Atlanta consultant, Steve Best, of Affinity Consulting, who is this year’s Chair.

Day 1 was exciting! Stay tuned for the snapshot of Day 2’s activities.

– Natalie