Reducing email risks (part 1)

July 3, 2012
Fulton County Daily Report

Email has completely transformed the practice of law. Now, electronic communication is instantaneous, continuous and virtually ubiquitous. It is difficult to even compare today's law practice with that of just a few years ago.

Basically, computers and technology have changed every aspect of the modern law practice. Correspondingly, the risks associated with the practice of law have changed too. The new risks of the e-revolution in the modern day-to-day practice of law are many. This is the first of a three-part series to address risks that directly relate to email.

Calendaring mistakes and administrative errors continue to dominate the types of problems generating legal malpractice claims. According to some surveys, the largest category for legal malpractice claims involves a missed deadline or a time management error. This is true regardless of the area of practice, the size of the law firm or how long the attorney has been practicing. In fact, as the pace of the modern law practice has increased, the need for effective calendar control and calendar reminder systems has only increased even more.

Prior to the emergence of emails, one of the most common forms of a "reminder system" for many attorneys was dubbed the "pile" system. Needless to say, it involved paper. Generally speaking, this calendaring system involved piles of paper strategically placed around the law office to prioritize and remind attorneys of what needed to be done and in what order. Although familiar to most, it can probably best be described as follows.

If a file was in the "pile" of documents on the credenza or on the desk, then the file needed to be looked at sometime this week. If the file was in the pile on the desk, it needed attention today or tomorrow. If it was on the attorney's chair (so as to be unavoidable), then it required action immediately. On the other end of the spectrum, if the file was in the file cabinet, then it was out of sight, and in many cases, out of mind.

The problem with this reminder approach was that it was least efficient when attorneys needed it the most. Basically, when things were the most frantic, and an attorney needed the most help from a reminder system, the piles were so big and so scattered that they were of little help. Malpractice risks abounded as the number of claims from missed deadlines confirmed.

So did computers with modern technology, new software and emails in inboxes change all of this? Not really.

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