So, you have a new client; whether that client hired you or you were appointed by the court, you need to get a new file opened and set up so you can get to work. In my office, we use a checklist (below) to make sure we have preliminary information about the client and his case. Every client needs a file, even if you choose a paperless office!
We start with a contact sheet (our happen to be on yellow paper to make them easy to spot on a desk and in a file). The contact sheet is created when the client (or his family) first calls the office. This is replaced with an order of appointment for non-hired cases. The contact sheet has preliminary information from the call so that the attorney can start to evaluate the case and keep notes. This contact sheet will exist on every potential client contact. It tracks when an attorney speaks with the potential client, what was discussed, whether an in-person meeting was set up, etc. So even a call that doesn’t result in a hiring is tracked and kept for conflict purposes and institutional memory, if you will. We have found that a call from a client “shopping for a lawyer” will often result in a later call to set an appointment or meet. And with the contact sheet, we will know everything that has been previously discussed with the client or family. Once the client hires, that sheet ends up in the client file.
Our office pulls the JIMS or other district clerk data on all new clients and potential clients (current charge and any priors). So this is included in our checklist for setting up the file. When the file is created, the legal assistant checks to make sure all of that information is included in the new file.
We have every client (retained or appointed) fill out a “client information sheet”. This two page document has name, address, phone numbers, relatives who may know client’s whereabouts, the charge or legal matter, a space for client to self-report priors (so we can cross check), the complainant’s information (when known), and a space for client to add anything he wishes for the attorney to know up front.
It’s also important that every client sign a contract, so we include this as a part of our checklist. (If appointed, the order of appointment serves the same purpose.)
We send an engagement letter to each client, confirming that we are retained or appointed to represent them and what they can generally expect. It also gives instructions to clients about the use of social media, not talking to anyone other than their lawyer, etc.
Our checklist is a simply one page list for opening the file so that assistants and lawyers alike can quickly make sure that all preliminary information is in the file and available as work begins. Again, this is just an example of how we open our files, and I hope it is of help to those starting their practices or looking to hone their procedures.