Learn From My Experiences
by Chris Little, Chris Little
What did I learn this year? I learned that the Denver Bar Association has a fabulous staff; the members of our judiciary are well-qualified and underpaid; my wife and two daughters love it when I’m at home; and my firm is a great place to work.
I learned something from Hurricane Katrina, too. Our collective response to the disaster demonstrated that we are an extremely generous community. It proved that attorneys can be professional under the worst of conditions and are gracious by opening doors and wallets to those who suffer.
The ramifications of Katrina may take years to grasp. Yet, it has provided every attorney and law firm a great opportunity to create or adopt risk management guidelines. We all need to be better-prepared. These thoughts are very basic ideas on how to be prepared for the quirks or hurricanes associated with the practice of law.
I have decided to leave these last thoughts with you because this is my job. When I wasn’t attending a Board of Trustees, Board of Governors, ABA, or committee meeting, or events like the swearing-in ceremony for new lawyers or dinners for the Colorado Bar Foundation Fellows, the Barristers Ball, the Hispanic Bar, the Sam Cary Bar, the Children’s Legal Clinic, the Asian Pacific American Bar, the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center, or the DU and CU Alumni Associations, I was practicing law where I represent lawyers who are being sued or grieved.
My busy schedule was its own hurricane. Time management was my first requirement.
Diligence is time management (Rule 1.3)
• Have a dual calendaring system. Katrina did not teach me this lesson — I did. It is embarrassing to miss a meeting or event because the date is written only on the paper calendar on your assistant’s desk.
• Get to your client’s problem as quickly as possible. Analyze the problems and handle them. Procrastination and hesitation will only get you in trouble. Return phone calls and respond to letters. Copy your client on all letters and pleadings — clients hate to have explanations six months later. Consistently and realistically communicate with your client. Finally, avoid the haste of e-mail — sometimes a heated response is worse than one that is slow and calculated.
• Have a back-up system that is routinely maintained. Store this system off-site. Have it insured. Purchase lawyer’s professional liability insurance.
Establish and maintain lawyer-client relationships (Rules 1.2 and 1.3)
• Have a fee agreement with every client. Defining and limiting your representation with your client is a must. In New Orleans, some lawyers did not do this and have no way of knowing if they had a client or what the case was about. Even more frightening, the lawyer with a hypothetical client without a written agreement who claims the lawyer promised to do something but didn’t, may now have a difficult defense to a claim for legal malpractice.
• Open a new file for each client matter. Adhere to a system of conflicts checks that keeps the client’s name and address; the purpose of the representation; the limitations on that representation; and the opposing parties/counsel.
• Define the client-lawyer relationship and the manner of billing and requirement for paying. Do not ever let your client slow-pay or no-pay you to dire straits. If the client is not adequately advised about the expense of the transaction or litigation, you will be on a quick line to a lawsuit or grievance.
• If you take a retainer or manage client funds subject to COLTAF, first read and understand In Re Sather, 3 P.3d 403 (Colo. 2000).
• Never commingle or borrow money from the COLTAF account. If you take a case on a contingency, read and follow Chapter 23.3 C.R.C.P.
• Katrina was a long way from Denver but its damage should change the way we manage our risks. This short piece is not exhaustive. If you have any questions, please give me a call, or better yet, call Reba Nance with Bar Association’s Office of Law Practice Management, (303) 824-5320.
We are a great and generous profession. I attended dozens of events where tables and pro bono contributions were made by lawyers aiding those less fortunate. I’ll wager we are the most generous profession in town. Thank you to all who contribute money, time and resources to places like Legal Aid, MVL or the Children’s Law Center. You make this an honorable profession.
Finally, I want to thank my family. Many of you know my father, Dave Little. He is a talented attorney and, more important, my mentor. He and my mother taught me the importance of participating and giving. I also want to thank my wife Christy and daughters Molly and Kate. Christy and Molly were supportive and agreed to take this journey with me. Funny thing happened in our presidential adventure — we added Kate to our family. She is wonderful (although attending early morning meetings was a tad difficult when she decided it would be fun to play at 3 a.m.). Sleep deprivation is another risk management problem but I won’t bore you with it.
Thanks again to my law firm. They are dedicated lawyers and I very much appreciate their support.
Paul Chan will lead us into another great year. I wish him the best of luck. Last, many thanks to Justice Hobbs, Judge Davidson, Judge McGahey, Judge Stewart and Judge Armatas for their articles this year.
See ya ’round the Bar.