Since the formation of the Legal Practice Council, lawyers have been compelled to come to terms with a regulatory body which is much more hands-on than its predecessor. The Legal Practice Council is constantly prescribing new required practices for all legal practitioners, including attorneys and advocates. These requirements are often somewhat overwhelming, but usually relate to simply adopting good client and record-keeping practices. It is therefore clear that, now more than ever before, attorneys should adhere to best practices relating to client records to ensure that they remain compliant.
In this article we will look at four of the best practices relating to client records to ensure compliance.
Know your client.
Since I became actively involved in LawBox, and assisting firms who wish to start using LawBox, I have had the privilege of gaining first-hand knowledge of how firms deal with client records and client information. Unfortunately, this has been a dubious privilege, as it allowed me to gain insight of just how poorly some firms maintain client records.
One of the fundamental requirements to provide a proper service to a client, and to comply with the provisions of the legal practice act, the regulations pursuant to such act, is having thorough client records.
The following are the most important details of your client, which you should have at your fingertips at all time.
- The name of your client (if your client is an individual, their name and surname; if your client is a company, the registered name);
- your client’s identity number or registration number;
- your client’s residential or registered business address;
- your client’s email address;
- your client’s telephone number;
- if your client is a natural person, it is wise to have the contact details for a next of kin. If your client is a company, the personal contact details of the directors should be easily accessible.
LawBox gives you the opportunity to capture all the above-mentioned client details in a central repository where the necessary information is always at your fingertips.
It is advisable to update client data at least once every six months, since people do tend to move around and change contact details from time to time.
Complying with the provisions of FICA is a major headache to many legal practitioners. Unfortunately, not complying with FICA regulations, could land practitioners in very hot water.
In theory, complying with FICA is not difficult. In short, the firm must retain a copy of the client’s ID, and a recent proof of residence. In practice, however, this is somewhat more challenging. Firms who maintain paper records, often run the risk of losing or misplacing client FICA documents, and having great difficulty to prove compliance with figure should the need arise.
LawBox allows firms to upload FICA documents in a digital format to a central repository, where the same can be accessed without any difficulty.
Keep track of client funds
Maintaining trust compliance is a major concern to legal practitioners since it requires us to function within the realms of accounting and finance. Unfortunately, most lawyers are simply not graced with the correct personality or traits to fulfil the functions of an accountant.
I follow the following good habits in my practice, and I have found that it makes my life MUCH easier:
- Daily trust reconciliation. Reconciling a trust account over a long period of time is very difficult because of the need to look for transactions which may be hidden in the data over a long period of time. Making sure that your trust account balances daily eliminates the need to spend many hours, or even days reconciling your trust account for your annual trust audit. It also helps you to sleep easy knowing that all client funds are accounted for.
- Maintain proper records of all transfers from trust to business. Every transfer of funds from your trust account to your business account should be properly documented and assigned to a file. This avoids trust funds. “going missing”.
- Ensure that your trust account balances at month end. Many banks impose fees and “back office” accounting entries to accounts at month end. This often means that where an account balances perfectly on the 31st, by the 2nd of the following month, the account may not balance properly. It is important to make sure that these transactions are properly captured.
LawBox allows legal practitioners to keep proper track of their trust account and all client funds held by the firm. With LawBox it is possible to balance your trust account every day in a matter of mere minutes. Trust transfers are documented thoroughly and properly on the system, to a central secure database for easy access later.
Bill frequently and consistently
Infrequent and inconsistent billing have the potential to destroy a good attorney-client relationship even more than poor legal service. Unfortunately many attorneys fall into the habit of only billing when they get the time (which is often less than once a month, or even once every two months). This bad habit leads to some major problems for the firm, such as:
- Alienating clients. Nobody likes surprises; especially if that surprise is an attorney’s bill which has been running up for a couple of months.
- Damaging cashflow. Infrequent billing leads to diminished and inconsistent income. This is extremely damaging, especially for smaller firms
LawBox gives attorneys the necessary tools to bill quickly, easily, and consistently