An unfortunate reality of practicing law is that you will have disputes with your clients. No firm or lawyer ever wants to be at odds with their clients, but in some cases it’s inevitable. No matter what business you’re in, handling fees and expectations like deadlines will always cause trouble between the service provider and the client, and being a lawyer is no different. These types of disputes can be uncomfortable, but in reality, it’s just a part of doing business.
Not all client disputes can be looked at as simply a part of doing business, though. When it comes to client disputes for lawyers, some of them can be downright devastating. Attorneys can’t afford client disputes that involve malpractice claims and fraud. These type of dispute have the potential to not only ruin a firm or attorney’s reputation, but they could result in
Prevent Client Disputes With Technology
The best way to handle client disputes is to prevent them from ever happening. This, of course, is easier said than done. No firm or lawyer can be expected to stay on top of all the potential problem areas that could cause a client dispute, but with the help of legal-specific technology, it becomes much easier.
Legal-specific technology can be depended on to prevent most disputes for a firm before they ever even happen. These technologies depend on automation to catch errors, trigger warnings about deadlines and potential conflicts, and above all ensure that a practice remains compliant.
Here are some of the most common areas client disputes can rear their ugly heads, and how the right legal technology can help prevent them.
Common Sources of Client Disputes
#1 – Fee Disputes
One of the most common areas client disputes can be found is in billing. Fee disputes have almost come to be expected in an industry that has a reputation for incredibly poor billing practices. Unfortunately, the poor reputation isn’t completely unfair. After decades of poor billing practices including; lump sum billing, unclear labeling, surprise fees, and delayed billing- clients have lost trust in the legal billing process.
The best way for attorneys to avoid fee disputes with their clients is to use technology to ensure that their billing practices meet the expectations of their clients. Firms who employ legal-specific billing software are more likely to provide clear concise invoices that are easily understood by all of their clients.
Clients that are billed on a regular basis are more apt to trust that they are being billed accurately. Many of the most successful firms utilize billing software that allows them to bill all of their clients in bulk. This makes it extremely easy to bill clients on a regular schedule, ensuring that clients are billed in a timely fashion to make sure they don’t forget what they are paying for.
#2 – Communication Breakdown
When attorneys don’t have an effective open line of communication with their clients it is truly a recipe for disaster. In instances where matters tend to drag out and little progress is made- it is all too common for attorneys to lose touch with their clients. Unfortunately, when long periods of time pass without communication between attorney and client, clients tend to become suspicious of what is actually happening.
An effective method to avoid any disputes is to establish a primary mode of communication with the client that is easily traceable. It goes without saying, how valuable having a paper trail can be. For this reason, it is incredibly effective to communicate with clients via email. Some practice management systems can even integrate with your email client, to manage and archive all of the client communication that takes place via email.
#3 – Missed Deadlines
Some deadlines are more important than others, but missing a deadline is never a good thing. The consequences of missing a deadline can range anywhere from an upset client all the way to ethics violations. Whatever the consequences may be, missing deadlines is a common source of client disputes.
Technology can go a long way in helping a firm stay on top of the many deadlines they are working towards at any given time. Employing a shared calendar system ensures that the entire firm is aware of any and all upcoming deadlines. This makes it easier to delegate tasks to the appropriate members of the firm.
Many firms are even turning to mobile calendar and task management solutions so that no matter where members of the firm may be they’ll always be aware of upcoming deadlines and events that are important to the firm.
#4 – Time Tracking Disputes
When an attorney doesn’t track their time and expenses effectively it generally means that they lose income. While any source of leakage is less than ideal, a firm’s inability to substantiate what they are actually billing for could lead to client disputes that may be even less favorable.
If firms want to avoid client disputes associated with the time, expenses, and activities they are billing for it is imperative that they bill against specific activities associated with the client’s matter. The best practice management systems allow firms to bill directly from the activity. This will remove any doubt about what the firm should and should not be billing their clients for.
#5 – Mishandled Finances
A firm’s finances are heavily scrutinized. It’s no secret that mismanagement can quickly lead ethics violations and even disbarment. In order to avoid disputes with clients, firms must account for all client funds and report on them to the client, show all expenses on invoices as hard or soft costs, properly batch and reconcile all credit card payments, and make sure that all trust records are kept clean and audit-ready.
The management of finances in the legal industry can be extremely difficult. Without technology, there is no chance of avoiding disputes associated with legal accounting. Fortunately using the appropriate legal accounting technology allows firms to automate these tasks and remove the risk of human error.
Integrated Practice Management The Key To Preventing Client Disputes
The truth is managing a law firm goes far beyond just practicing law. Without the proper solutions and expertise, it is impossible to avoid all of the possible disputes that can arise with clients.
Multiple systems are needed to efficiently manage a firm’s relationship with clients, but when those systems act on their own without communicating with each other it is virtually impossible to get the 365-degree view of the firm’s activities needed to avoid client disputes.
An integrated practice management system allows firms to avoid client disputes by taking a proactive approach. Firms no longer have to go searching for important dates, deadlines, communications, or expenses. The right technology can organize and even alert attorneys about some of the most important information pertaining to their clients. The key to avoiding client disputes is simple, don’t go it alone! Employ the right technology and client disputes will no longer be a concern.