Attorneys, risk-averse species that they are, have been known to chafe at checklists. Litigators especially feel wary of the implication that their jobs can be reduced to a rote ticking of boxes. Variety and on-your-feet thinking are part of litigation’s appeal. No bullet point list can capture the potential twists, turns, and tasks you might confront as a case trundles forward. And following a written attorney case management checklist can feel like binding yourself to a workflow that might not suit your client’s needs.
And yet. Case management might not boil down to an exact science, but it’s not a pure art form either. Your state’s Rules of Professional Conduct require you to accomplish some tasks as a litigator. And the constant evolution of litigation practices and technology — exemplified by the trend toward remote depositions, for instance — makes it imperative that you take other steps in order to keep up with the times and deliver the value your client expects.
So without further ado, here’s a short attorney case management checklist that you can put to use today without sacrificing flexibility and creativity in how you tackle a case.
Attorney Case Management Checklist: Must-Do Items
In all U.S. jurisdictions, bar rules generally require (or at least strongly recommend) that litigators take the following steps in the course of managing a case. Failing to accomplish these tasks can expose an attorney to all kinds of ugly consequences like the loss of fees, malpractice allegations, and professional disciplinary action. (Please note: this isn’t necessarily a complete list of your case management obligations, just items we chose to highlight because of their tendency to fall through the cracks in a busy law practice. Always consult your local rules of practice to ensure compliance.)
Perform a Timely Conflict Check
Never onboard a new client without first screening for conflicts of interest. A robust, proactive, and efficient conflict check procedure, facilitated by a digital case management system, protects against losing new business or landing yourself in an ethical minefield. Smart litigators check conflicts before meeting with or receiving potentially privileged information from a would-be client.
Keep in mind that you should limit the information you request from a potential new client to the bare minimum you need to screen for conflicts. Commercial or family law practitioners, in particular, should stay mindful of the possibility that putative clients may reach out to them strategically in hopes of manufacturing a conflict that forecloses their representation of an adversary.
Execute an Engagement Agreement
Laying out the attorney-client relationship in writing and in plain English (or, when feasible, the client’s native tongue) constitutes a must-do in virtually all litigation scenarios, and yet it can sometimes get overlooked. An engagement agreement should:
- Identify the client and the subject matter of the representation
- Define the scope of the work you’ve agreed to perform and, when necessary, tasks you have not agreed to do
- Explain the fee structure
- Address non-fee costs
- Discuss confidentiality and information sharing between you and the client
- Identify personnel who may work on a case and the client’s points-of-contact
- Contain clear, jurisdiction-compliant dispute resolution provisions
- Contain all other language required under local rules
Execute an engagement agreement as soon as you can after clearing conflicts. Today’s e-sign solutions make it possible to do so remotely. And remember, it’s usually safest to have an agreement for every matter you handle, even if it means signing multiple agreements with a single client.
Collect and Confirm Client “Vitals”
Like a doctor taking a standardized set of health data from a patient, your obligation of competence requires you to obtain and stay current about information critical to understanding and serving your client’s interests. Taking these client “vitals” differs in purpose from getting on top of the facts and law that form the substance of a representation (though those two sets of information may overlap), and may include the following client information:
- Contact details (address, phone, social media, etc.)
- Preferred means and times of communication
- Relevant socio-economic data (family status, employment, etc.)
- Expected future life changes or periods of unavailability
- Perceived need for your legal services
- Desired result or top priorities
- Outcomes preferably avoided
Of course, you must also gather and analyze the material facts and arguments governing the subject matter of your representation.
But too often, litigators allow their necessary focus on the factual and legal substance of a case to divert them from also collecting and confirming a complete set of client vitals, despite that information being equally (if not more) important in planning and executing a strategy, and in defining what constitutes success or failure. Establishing a client portal on your website (see below) can facilitate collecting this data by confirming vitals every time a client logs in.
Communicate Regularly and Predictably
You have an ethical duty to stay in touch with your client, even when nothing’s going on. Good communication also makes sound business sense. Nothing pickles an attorney-client relationship more thoroughly than a client feeling forgotten. Quick check-ins via a client’s preferred means of communication — even a simple text — help manage expectations and plan for events like depositions or hearings.
Define and Document Case Endpoints
Clients don’t always know when a matter is over, so it’s up to you to make it clear. Sending a letter or email summarizing when and how you’ve concluded your representation avoids any misunderstanding. That, in turn, protects you against potential conflicts that can arise if a client mistakenly believes you remain their lawyer for all time and all purposes, even after you’ve reached the end of the matter for which you executed your engagement agreement.
Attorney Case Management Checklist: Should-Do Items
We turn now to some other attorney case management checklist items that, though not strictly required of litigators, constitute best practices in today’s evolving, tech-driven case management environment. Ticking these boxes can go a long way toward maintaining a thriving practice that meets modern client expectations and delivers good value.
Make Digital Case Management Your Default
Like it or not, paper is a thing of the past. Litigation documents get created, signed, stored, and filed digitally these days, and if you’re not fully on board with that paradigm, you’re behind the times.
That doesn’t just mean that you need to scan paper materials to .pdf. It means making a wholesale, practice-wide commitment to managing every aspect of your document flow in a secure, digital environment. For example:
- Executing all agreements, pleadings, and other filings using e-sign technology.
- Requesting digital copies of records from your clients and third parties and making it easy for them to upload them.
- Sharing and reviewing document discovery on a purpose-built e-discovery platform.
- Mastering the finer points of Electronic Case Files (ECF) and state court electronic filing systems.
The days have passed when being a digital non-native was an excuse for litigating with physical paper. Luddites can’t be successful litigators anymore. To keep your practice current, you must conduct the bulk of litigation case management digitally.
Establish Online Portals for Clients and Others
Digital case management isn’t limited to internal firm operations. It also requires an outward-facing digital capability. You need to be able to interact with clients, courts, and opposing counsel online. A secure online portal that gives clients and others web-based, remote access to files, discovery, and other case-relevant materials hosted on a cloud-based server can serve that purpose.
Through an online portal, your clients can upload documents you’ve requested on their schedule. They can review case correspondence, pleadings, and court materials without relying on you or your assistant to send them. They can send you messages or ask questions. These functions can go a long way in keeping your client informed and involved as a case proceeds.
An online portal can also facilitate sharing discovery with opposing counsel. You can use a portal to host exhibits too large to send to a court. And you can create case-specific websites to share information with the public.
Take Full Advantage of Remote Depositions
Legal technology has had a significant impact on how litigators take and defend depositions. Driven in part by the explosion of video conferencing during the pandemic, today’s clients and opposing parties expect to be able to sit for depositions remotely. The modern litigator has no choice but to have the capacity and support to schedule, take, and defend effective remote depositions.
Single-source remote deposition services make that possible by combining all the functionality and court reporting support a litigator needs in a purpose-built platform. Through a remote deposition solution, you can:
- Schedule a remote deposition to be transcribed by a technologically proficient court reporter
- Pre-upload and mark deposition exhibits
- Upload exhibits on-the-fly
- Conduct or defend a deposition from the comfort and convenience of your office
- Participate in the deposition through a live audio and video stream
- Receive real-time stenographic transcript
- Conduct asides with your client in remote break-out rooms
- Receive a draft transcript within 30 minutes of the conclusion of a deposition
- Obtain certified transcripts, deposition video overlayed with transcript text, and other materials
These capabilities streamline your work and ensure the entire process is professionally and accurately conducted. Not only will you modernize your firm’s processes, but clients will see you as organized, efficient, and effective in your entire methods.
Attorney Case Management Checklist: Basic and Evolving Practices That Keep Your Firm Ahead
At the end of the day, success is in the details. By taking the time to set up each case appropriately and by modernizing your methods to meet today’s evolving digital practices, your firm will stand out from the crowd as you maximize both efficiency and professionalism.
Remote Legal is a remote deposition platform that offers an all-in-one solution for litigators who want to stay current and meet client expectations. Contact us today for a demo.
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