Within a business or a law firm, there are few things worse than getting slapped with the dreaded lawsuit. Not only are lawsuits expensive, but they can be time-consuming, draining and lead to negative associations with your business. Many times, lawsuits could be avoided by taking simple precautions.
While common sense plays a role, of course, even for experienced leaders and skilled attorneys, having good prevention techniques in place can save a lot of headaches. You can't be everywhere at once, which is why having formal policies in place can help your business avoid lawsuits even if you can't review every matter personally.
1. Legal Contract Review: Even for the most routine and mundane contracts, have someone from your legal counsel team review the contract before signing. The time or money spent upfront for legal review will save you ten times more than skimping on legal fees and facing litigation from the contract down the road. If using a standard form, make sure it has been reviewed in advance by counsel, and have it routinely updated.
2. Professional Office Communication: Training employees properly is important to create a healthy work atmosphere and will hopefully reduce the likelihood of workplace complaints. While workplace behavior has received significant attention in recent years, formal training and written policies are essential. Particularly for small businesses, there can be an informal, collegial atmosphere. This is a good thing, provided everyone is aware that there are still workplace policies that must be followed even in informal communication, including texts, IMs, and social media posts.
3. Analyze the Business: On a regular basis, analyze your business to determine if a certain area is receiving more complaints and if there is a trend as to why. If you are counsel to a manufacturing company, for example, perhaps the company's designs or warnings are not up to par. If you are getting sued on vendor contracts more regularly, perhaps the language or verbiage needs to be tweaked. As a law firm, perhaps you have an employee who has difficulty communicating appropriately with clients or other employees. Sitting down with the employee to discuss the issue, or re-training the employee on the firm's standard procedures may be needed.
4. Institute Policies and Procedures: Have policies and procedures in place for employment-related matters, and follow them. What you may need to include in your written policies and procedures, and best practices for doing so, is a topic beyond the scope of this article, but are also items that should be carefully considered. Communicating these policies and procedures through training and a written handbook is also prudent, as is keeping written handbooks updated.
5. Documentation: If you suspect something unethical or illegal is going on within your own company, investigate it immediately and document the results. Do not think that things will go away or go unnoticed. If you are inside counsel, your fiduciary duty is to the company. Documentation can provide a helpful paper trail that provides a credible account of what occurred, in the event that further issues arise.
These tips are a start for any in-house counsel or attorney to help prevent a company or firm from being sued. This list is certainly not exclusive; it merely serves as a reminder of areas to consider. You can't plan for every contingency, but consistent focus on preventative measures really does go a long way.