August 22, 2016
Making the rounds lately have been a number of articles and “Top 10” lists on how outside counsel can provide the best service and added value for their clients. Of course, no relationship can be its best without cooperation from both parties toward a common goal. At Butler, our guiding principles are as follows:
- To deliver superlative work products at all times
- To provide honest, practical, and business-savvy evaluations and assessments
- To prepare clear plans of action and execute them
- To partner with our clients as a synergistic team – every step of the way
- To resolve matters expeditiously
- To maintain frequent written communications with our clients
- To adhere to all client guidelines
It is the fourth principle in this list, “To partner with our clients as a synergistic team – every step of the way,” that makes it possible to bring the remainder of our principles to fruition. More often than not, the facts and issues giving rise to our firm’s involvement in a particular matter have had a long – and often complex – history. We, as your lawyers, must sift through that history and try to quickly make sense of facts that are often convoluted and lacking any helpful context.
For this reason, I find myself often thinking about my own “Top 5 List” of things I believe would give our clients an advantage by giving us, as their lawyers, the opportunity to provide the best representation possible.
- Know where your claim file is and provide it to us. All of it. This seems simple enough; however, I commonly hear from my colleagues that sometimes they can’t seem to get the entire claim file with the first request.
How does this happen? There are a number of potential reasons. Here are some: 1) At the time the claim file was produced to counsel, someone in a separate department, and with no personal knowledge of the file, is the person who produced it; 2) In a paperless environment, the file is divided and saved in electronic folders, but not all of them were collected to produce to the attorney; 3) The adjuster maintained his/her own file and not everything was uploaded to the insurer’s document system, or not uploaded consistently; 4) The adjuster communicated with the insured, or the insured’s representatives, by text message and did not save the texts to the file; 5) The insurer changed its document management software and only the documents in the new system were provided as the claim file; 6) Documents, including e-mails and letters, were not uploaded to the claim file in a timely fashion and were lost when the laptop, notebook, or other device on which the adjuster was working “crashed.”
Whatever the reason for not doing so maybe, providing the entire file helps us get a better picture of the case and avoids unnecessary discovery issues later.
- Document — in multiple places — all communications with your insured, or their representatives. Unless you document the conversation – and do it often – it is a situation of “he said/she said” as to what actually happened. Making an internal file note of what the insured or their representative told you may not be enough. A good practice is to document the subject of the conversation and what was represented to you in a follow-up letter or e-mail tracked with delivery and read receipts.
- Make sure the timeline of your file matches your notes. If you send a document to the insured, make sure it is accompanied by a dated and signed cover letter, even if all the letter says, for example, is “Enclosed please find a certified copy of your policy.” If there is a note in your file that a document was sent to the insured, make sure a copy of what you sent the insured, along with a dated cover letter demonstrating when you sent it (and if possible, when the insured received it) is in your file. The reverse is also helpful: When you receive something from your insured, make a note of what you received and when, and document to the insured what you received, and when you received it. Diary the due date for a response compliant with policy and statutory requirements.
- Tell us all of the “issues,” upfront. Obviously, the more we know and the sooner we know it, the better we can advise you on the strengths and weaknesses of your case. We know you have a big claim load, but, generally, when you’re engaging us to assist, you have an idea if there are some “issues” that need our review. We would rather know about it early than to be surprised by it later.
- Tell us your individual expectations. Behind every company are the individuals who make it tick. We know what your company’s guidelines are, but occasionally, claim or company litigation representatives have personal preferences. Let us know how to make your job easier and we will do our best to partner with you for that purpose.
Assistance with these items will go a long way in helping to put the relationship on the right footing from the start. We’ll take it from there. Now, that’s teamwork!