NOTE TO USERS: FAQs by LPMC provides answers by experienced individuals to problems which frequently arise in the management of a law practice. The answers provide a beginning point; a short, quick answer. The answer also provides a reference date and an e-mail address to contact the person providing an answer, so that you can make a further inquiry, or submit information to up-date the answer. There are no warranties, expressed or implied. If you have a specific question you would like to have addressed, or that you would like to share, please use the LPM FAQ Form.
Q. I like my client contact information on the computer. Should I also have a paper source of the information?
A: There are several reasons why it is a good idea to create a "Cheat Sheet" notebook for all client matters. First, the Cheat Sheet contains valuable information about clients, including fax numbers, assistant’s names, email addresses, experts, opposing counsel and much more. Secondly, the Cheat Sheet can be kept in a three-ring binder or notebook in alphabetical or numerical order and is easily accessible in the event the computer malfunctions and you are not able to access the information. Also, once a Cheat Sheet is created it can be printed and maintained as the top sheet on the correspondence board. It saves time and energy in locating names and telephone numbers for various parties involved in the suit and can easily be updated as the case progresses. Additionally, the Cheat Sheet is created and stored in the client’s matter file within the computer so that anyone working on the case can easily pull up the Cheat Sheet and obtain names and phone numbers without having to search for the hard copy of the file. A sample is attached.
Q: How can I practice smarter, not harder? It seems as though I am always struggling to keep up. Hiring an associate sometimes works, and other times it doesn't. Training an associate could take time I seldom have, not to mention the extra money for salary. I've heard that too often an that an associate may stay just long enough to learn enough to set up his or her own practice and then leave.
A: There are a couple of ways to do this: One very effective way to work smarter rather than harder is to hire competent and well trained staff. Many attorneys have hired properly trained paralegals to ease the burden of a busy practice. They can take on many duties and responsibilities that bog down an attorney and that don't need a law school degree to perform. They can be excellent gatherers, evaluators, organizers, and producers. Recognize the value of having a good support staff, and paying that staff well, can help immensely to solve this problem - just ask the attorneys who have already caught onto this.
A second way is to take advantage of automation. There is more automation for practicing law than you can imagine. How to use it:
Robert A. Martin
Q: How long do I have to keep a client's files before destroying them?
A: Files should not be discarded until the applicable statute of limitations is past, and special care should be taken to know the applicable statute of limitations in other states, if the cause of action arose there or if the client has contractually agreed to a choice of law provision in another state. The NM statute of limitations for legal malpractice is 4 years, as is that for cases involving unwritten contracts, property damage, and all actions not specifically provided for in the state statutes. Personal injury claims must be brought w/in 3 years. Attorneys are also required to keep complete records concerning a client's funds for 5 years after the termination of representation. We tickle our to review after 6 years and do not destroy ANY file automatically, w/o a final review.
Catherine Baker Stetson
To see a recently published ethics opinion relating to file retention, click here.
Q. Can I use a trust check to pay my office expenses?
A. No. While the client the funds belong to the Client, the attorney needs to maintain the funds in a trust account (a fiduciary duty). See: Comment to Model Rules, Rule 16-115 Safekeeping Property. This can be in a general trust account with the bank where the amount is nominal and it will only be held for a short period of time. However, once the attorney funds belong to the attorney, they must be removed from the trust account. Commingling or lack of proper records risks attorney’s license. In re Turpen, 119 N.M. 227, 228, 889 P.2d 835, 836 (1995).
Q: Can I pay myself on earned fees from the trust funds I’m holding, when the Client doesn’t agree to my payment?
A: No. Attorney can not disbursement funds without consent of client. Rule 16-115(C); Cf. In re Moore, 2000-NMSC-019, para 3, Vol 39, No. 27 SBB 20 (July 6, 2000).
Donald D. Becker