It might be hard to believe, but we’re already entering the third quarter of the year. Where has 2019 gone?

It’s a good time to review your law practice and assess how you are doing when it comes to malpractice prevention. It’s never too late to do this, and the results might help you consider some changes heading into 2020.

Most solo practitioners or lawyers in small firms I talk to think about risk management from time to time, but usually they do so in the context of a case they are working on or a sticky issue they are trying to resolve. Unfortunately, it is less common to find lawyers thinking about risk management in a preventive manner. Reading this article might inspire you to do so now.

At a recent continuing legal education seminar, many attendees wanted to talk to me after the program about some of the small, nagging issues that were keeping them up at night. They expressed the hope that they could implement some measures that might reduce their stress. Let’s give it a try.

In this article I present eight categories, which you might have heard about at a CLE presentation, that you should assess when looking at your overall practice. Now is an opportunity to truthfully assess how you think you are doing in these categories and consider ways to improve your risk management strategies. It might help you keep a client, save you some money, avert an Office of Lawyer Regulation (OLR) complaint or a malpractice claim, or even make you a better lawyer. At the very least, this process should help give you some peace of mind.

Office Management

One of the goals in managing your practice is to keep track of your time and energy so that you maximize your effectiveness. Work on being organized, but don’t let it consume you. Here are some questions to consider.

Case Management

Staying on top of open files, of course, is critical. One of the most common mistakes alleged in malpractice claims is missed deadlines. Create ticklers for active files for automatic reviews, and schedule conferences with office associates or staff to discuss the status of active cases. If you do those things, you have a good foundation for avoiding scheduling mistakes or just plain procrastination on cases that need some attention. Here are some questions to consider.


This category goes hand in hand with the previous category, case management. It is very important to have a reliable system for tracking dates and deadlines. That may sound obvious. But as I previously mentioned, too many lawyers make calendaring errors and end up missing deadlines. (Calendaring errors have generated approximately 12 percent of the malpractice claims reported to Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Co. (WILMIC) since 2007.) Here are questions that may help you avoid being one of those lawyers.

Client Relationships and Client Communication

The way you communicate with your clients can make a big difference in the quality of legal service you are providing them. Just as important, it can affect the outcome of a case. Knowing the law and how to apply it are simply not good enough. Communication affects your clients’ expectations and whether or not they understand the nature of their legal issues. Whether it is oral or written communication, don’t overlook its importance. Here are some questions to ask yourself when dealing with your clients.

Time and Billing

Your billing statements are a form of communication to clients. They tell the clients what you have done, of course, and how long you spent doing it. But billing statements also should convey to clients the value of your services and what they are getting for the money they are spending. Develop a procedure for communicating your fees and costs to clients and stick to it consistently. Make sure your clients understand how much and for which work they will be charged. Make sure they understand and are satisfied before you get deeply involved in their case. Fee disputes can be ugly and often lead to a malpractice claim. Here are some issues to consider.


I generally leave ethics to the real experts: people such as Tim Pierce and Aviva Kaiser at the State Bar of Wisconsin or Keith Sellen at the OLR. But generally, here are some questions for you to ponder when assessing how prepared you are to deal with this part of your practice.

Trust Accounts

Questions about trust account rules are best left to the experts such as the State Bar’s Pierce and Kaiser. However, compliance with the rules is an issue that bears mentioning because it is an important one. Trust accounts are not something you learn much about in law school, and lawyers often either overlook trust account matters or give them only cursory attention. But improper management of trust accounts can lead to lawyers being disciplined. Here are questions to consider.

Taking Care of Yourself

The legal profession might have sounded glamorous before law school, but practicing lawyers quickly learn that it is not all glamour. The reality is that a career as a lawyer includes ups and downs. How you deal with the pressures of practice can determine your success as well as your ability to stay healthy and happy and help you avoid mistakes that can prove costly. Lawyers can do several things to prevent or reduce the anxiety that comes with the job, but they must be able to step back and assess what’s going on. Ask yourself the following questions:

If you need help coping with the stress of practice or other issues affecting your ability to practice, contact the State Bar’s Wisconsin Lawyers Assistance (WisLAP) program. WisLAP offers confidential, 24-hour assistance through its Hotline, (800) 543-2625.


Practicing law can be very fulfilling and satisfying, but it also contains potential pitfalls. Be aware of the hazards and take the necessary steps to avoid them. As the saying goes in the malpractice insurance world, “Even good lawyers make mistakes.” All lawyers occasionally make mistakes, but the better your practice management procedures are, the less likely you are to commit malpractice.