American Bar Association
General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division

In the Event of Emergency . . .

by Georgia Lewis Leonhart

None of us knows when an incapacitating disaster may strike. On December 18, 1997, I had a massive heart attack, attributable to a defective mitral valve. I was unable to work for six months.

The crisis over, I realized that I had not planned properly to protect my clients’ interests in the event of my incapacitation or death. A solo practitioner for 11 years, I finally realized that I needed a system to facilitate notification of my clients and to ensure the smooth transition of their cases. I found my answer in two types of documents: client data sheets and work in progress printouts.

Client Data Sheets

Client data sheets are an instant source for identifying all active clients and all matters in which they are currently represented. The data sheets include the following information:

• Client Name, Business Name, or Trade Name

If a corporation, the officers of the corporation and the principal person with whom I maintain contact are listed.

• Contact Information

For each client, corporate officer, and principal contact this includes mailing addresses, telephone numbers, (home, work, cell), fax numbers, e-mail addresses, and any websites.

• Case Name and Information

As my practice predominantly involves litigation, I record the case name, case number, and the name and contact information for the court in which the case is pending. I also record the names and contact information for other parties and for all counsel involved in the case—with particular emphasis upon my own local counsel. As the case progresses, the names and contact information for key witnesses and other people who I may be required to contact during the case (e.g., judge, clerks, court reporters, and mediators) are recorded. If a client is involved in more than one case, I maintain a separate data sheet for each case. This section can be easily modified to record information most critical to the type of services being performed for any client.

Client data sheets are regularly updated and those regarding cases or projects in progress are kept in one file. In the event of emergency, they are sufficient to provide access to every person who needs to know of your condition.

WIP Printouts

It is also important that someone be informed regarding the status of your clients’ cases. What has been done? What work is in progress? What procedural deadlines exist? What did you intend to do? Many tools are available to record this type of information in an accessible and understandable form. I use the Excel program to create an ongoing work-in-progress (WIP) file.

For each entry I record the date the entry was made, the date upon which that particular entry must be completed (or upon which I expect to complete it), the client name, the case name, and a description of the work to be done. Using the program’s sorting features, I typically print one list sorted by "date due" and print another sorted by client, then by case, and then by date due. The end result is a list of all deadlines and a current list of all work in progress segregated by client. A current copy of each WIP printout is kept in the file with the client data sheets for active cases and clients.

Finally, be sure that there are people who know when to act and, if the need arises, know where to look for your client information, and know what to do with it. (See "What to Expect of the Quasi-partner" in this issue.) I have informed the appointed guardians of my child and a close friend who is a fellow member of the bar.

Client data sheets and WIP printouts are valuable tools in maintaining an effective and efficient practice while helping to safeguard clients in the event of incapacitation or death.

A writer and member of the Maryland Bar, Georgia Lewis Leonhart conducts an active civil litigation practice out of her office in Ocean View, Delaware. She can be reached at galaw@dmv.com .

 

 

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