Attorneys do not question the need to back-up their computers or phones, but a few have a real problem with getting a backup attorney. Not sure how a computer or phone’s data is more important than the attorney.
From a malpractice insurer’s viewpoint a solo practitioner having a backup attorney is essential to help mitigate preventable legal malpractice exposures. The backup attorney can step in when unexpected circumstances to the insured attorney makes it impossible to appear for a court date or meet a client deadline. Hopefully the backup attorney that can temporarily fill in to keep the practice going if needed. In larger firms, the insurer’s assumption is that the law firm has other attorneys that can temporarily fill in. But solo attorneys need to have a plan.
Attorney Malpractice Insurers will not charge extra for the backup attorney, nor does the backup attorney need to be listed on firm letterhead, website or office door. In many cases solo attorneys will have ‘mutual aid’ agreements with other attorneys. While this can be a very informal plan, which is all the malpractice insurer will require. The best plans are ones that have been formalized to the extent that the backup attorney with some assistance is able to know who to obtain access to the solo insured’s attorney’s calendar and case files. The solo attorney’s office staff needs to be aware of the arrangement.
With planned absences an attorney usually can arrange his/her schedule to accommodate upcoming cases, deadlines and client meetings. Normally if you cannot be contacted for an extended period of time you have prearrange with your staff(if any) or another attorney to handle calls and client emergencies.
But solo practitioners need to prepare for the unexpected absence. Attorneys without a plan in place put a major burden on their loved ones, staff and clients. Unfortunately, things happen. The unexpected absence can be temporary or permanent.
Some Basic steps:
1. Your backup attorney should have access to your files and client information in the event of your unplanned absence.
2. The designated backup attorney should have authorization to review your client files, determine which files/clients need immediate attention and determine how to notify clients of the situation.
3. The plan should be reviewed with your staff, loved ones and your backup attorney, so if the unexpected happens it can be addressed the in best manner possible.
Solo attorneys work hard to establish a practice and want to provide for their loved ones. Having a backup attorney is just one more step in the estate plan that helps maintain the maximum value of the practice you have built.
At least once a quarter we have a solo attorney that has passes away, many are unexpected.