Compliance is mandatory for law firms, but the complex rules and regulations lawyers are required to follow can make it difficult to maintain. To prevent problems resulting from violations, complaints or failed audits, it’s important to take as many measures as possible to run a compliant law office. Implementing specific initiatives and processes can provide peace of mind that you’re minimizing your risk of non-compliance even while running a busy practice.
1. Centralize recordkeeping
Keep all of your documents in one location and if possible, one system. In doing so you’ll be set up to properly handle conflict checks, handle matter trust ledgers and create a clear audit trail for billable activity. Having documents spread out in multiple locations, on the other hand, often requires manual cross-referencing and is a sure fire way to make a mistake.
2. Be proactive toward client disputes
Client disputes can result in unpaid invoices and even complaints to your local bar association. To avoid either scenario take a proactive approach with timely, detailed invoicing and clear, consistent communication. Not only will it help keep you compliant, but you’ll also have to deal with fewer accounts in collection while creating steady cash flow.
3. Always be prepared for an audit
No one ever wants to go through an audit, but it will be a lot less stressful if you know all the documents you need are ready and up to standard. You should always be operating as if an audit were taking place tomorrow, running and storing the appropriate trust accounting reports on a regular basis. Consider setting yourself up for success by using a legal-specific program designed to prevent trust accounting errors and easily run reports.
4. Securely handle client data
You’re responsible for protecting your client’s privileged and confidential information through internal policies as well as proper storage. Train your staff on what secure handling entails and what is required in terms of confidentiality. Conduct appropriate due diligence in preventing data breaches, including employee training on potential scams and hacking schemes, having a vendor management process in place and properly storing and sharing documents.
5. Have checks and balances
Mistakes happen – there’s no avoiding it. To minimize incidents use checks and balances to both prevent and catch them as soon as possible. Be aware of any potential fraud or embezzlement and make sure the same person isn’t handling both the bookkeeping and financial duties.
A successful law firm has a lot of moving parts, so it’s critical that compliance is built into the core operations of the practice. If it’s an afterthought or the firm is simply hoping the appropriate actions are taking place it’s likely there will be a violation at some point. By evaluating existing procedures and updating them to include preventative actions, your firm will be well positioned for maintaining compliance in all aspects.
Want to ensure a compliant law office? Check out our in-depth guide for information on how to implement these techniques into your practice: 5 Ways to Run a Compliant Law Firm.