We will always be available for phone or email questions during our work with you. Today, there are so many methods of communicating, we think it is important to establish some ground rules. After a lot of thought, we have come up with the following guidelines for working with clients. While none of the guidelines are set in stone, we think in most cases, they work best for everyone. We also recognize there are exceptions, so please feel free to discuss any concerns you might have.
Some of our guidelines are to help minimize the Data Silo problem everyone experiences from time to time. The American Bar Association Practice Management Division has a book on working together with technology. This book devotes an entire chapter to the “Data Silo” problem and explains the problem as:
"The rise of hundreds of Internet tools and applications—social networks, calendars, messaging apps, webmail, and so on—has created a silo effect in our use of these tools. The information we want to use on these sites is kept in different, largely unconnected places that we must visit individually to access. The phenomenon is often described using the metaphor of silos—the cylindrical structures that hold grain and other bulk material separate from each other. As with grain silos, we must visit our “Internet silos” one after the other to load and unload information. The silo effect is present in the office as well. Lawyers experience this effect as they try to locate necessary information in their email applications, document management systems, databases, time and billing programs, intranets, web resources, and the like."
As the number of silos increases, we see two common effects. First, locating information becomes much more difficult because you must move from silo to silo to gather what you need for the job at hand. Second, there comes a point when people have too many silos, and they will refuse to create another no matter how compelling its benefits.
Email: Email has become our main means for communicating. It’s fast and doesn’t require us to connect at the same time. Practically everyone uses it today.
Response Expectations: Your message is important to us and we will respond to you as soon as possible. We generally need to look at your file and possibly do research before we can reply to most emails, calls, etc. As a result, you may experience a longer delay in response than you anticipated because of other demands we have. Thank you for understanding, as this helps us to serve you better.
Scheduling Calls: Ideally, please schedule telephone or video calls with us in advance so we can avoid the unnecessary back and forth in trying to reach one another, and so we can have your file open and be fully prepared when we do talk. When you become a client, you will receive the links to schedule calls or other appointments with us or you can always schedule by phoning our staff at 704-837-1348. Even brief check-in calls are best scheduled in advance: it allows us to be fully prepared to speak with you, saving both your valuable time and ours.
Video Conferences: We have the ability to host video conferences. This allows us to have conferences with you wherever you may be. You’ll need an internet connection and a connected device with a camera and microphone. Most laptops and iPads have these. We’ll send you a link via email and you click on that link to have access to the video conference. Multiple parties can be involved in the conference and they can all be in different locations as long as they have the internet connection and a device with camera and microphone. This means in a business transaction or tax case, your spouse, business partner, and accountant can all participate in the call from different locations. With the video conference we can use the video to go over documents on the screen. If you don’t have a camera on your device, or are having a bad hair day, you can mute the video of your face, but take advantage of the screen sharing feature of the conference to go over a legal document together. We’ve been doing video conferences for a few years now and can help you with many of the problems you might experience.
Texting: Our office phones have the capability to do SMS communication or “texting”, but we are not a fan of this means of communication and we prefer you avoid texting us. There are several reasons for this. First, depending on the service, text messages are limited to only 160-1600 characters which is low for legal communications. Second, we have not found them easy to email large pdf documents which is our preferred method for transmitting document files to clients. Third, they are very difficult to file in existing technology. Further, it is another data silo that has to be watched that is easily overlooked and hard to manage. Please refrain from texting.
Confidentiality: Oxford’s defines “confidentiality” as “the state of keeping or being kept secret or private”. Confidentiality is different from privilege which we’ll discuss below. We think that for most legal matters, it’s wise to keep at least parts of your communications confidential, but also important to think about who should have access to what information. For example, if we provide you with a business structure and documents to change the tax treatment of your business, we generally like to have your tax return preparer involved in reviewing the documents and getting their thoughts on the process. We want everyone on the same page so transactions are treated consistently throughout. Similarly, if we do an estate plan for you, we will usually urge you to involve your brokerage and insurance professionals to make sure your beneficiary designations on accounts with your financial institutions are consistent with your estate plan. We have heard horror stories where a person changes their will after a divorce or separation, but forgets to change designations on their 401k or IRA so the ex-spouse receives these assets. It is a good idea for us to work closely with various advisors. We are happy to talk to them to make sure the necessary changes are made.
Assuming you do want to keep communications with us confidential, there’s an old saying that two can keep a secret only if one is dead. We don’t fully agree with the saying. We are required by law to keep our conversations with you confidential unless you authorize disclosure. No death is necessary on our part. In fact, attorneys, unlike other professionals who advise on personal financial matters, are not even required by a federal law to inform their clients of their policies regarding privacy of client information. This is because all attorneys have been and continue to be bound by professional standards of confidentiality that are even more stringent than those required by federal law. Attorneys have always protected your right to privacy.
Based on the old saying, the other person that discloses a secret is you. You should take time to consider who needs access to the information you are sharing with us. For example, you should avoid using any public and most workplace computers to send us email. Employee communications on workplace computers are typically subject to an employer’s internal policies. These policies often permit your employer access to your email communication even on your personal email account. Our firm uses email to communicate with clients, but you should only do so on a personal computer, device and network using a personal email address.
Attorney/Client Privilege: Documents and communications that are privileged are not required to be turned over the opposing side in litigation, like the IRS in a tax audit. The attorney-client privilege dates back hundreds of years but is now part of most court’s rules of evidence and the privilege is recognized by courts in all jurisdictions. The purpose of the attorney-client privilege is to encourage communications between attorneys and their clients without fear of the conversations being later used against the clients. It is important to note that not all conversations with us are going to be privileged. The privilege is narrow and applies to your confidential disclosures to us as part of your seeking advice. This privilege can extend to other professionals working with us to give you advice. If a conversation is to be privileged, it needs to be confidential (see above discussion) and should not be disclosed to third persons not involved in your legal case. Similar to the attorney-client privilege is the work product doctrine which protects items prepared by an attorney in preparation of litigation.
Depending on your case, we may need to discuss the attorney-client privilege and work product doctrine. If you ask us something sensitive, we may respond and put that our communication is “Attorney-Client Privileged”. If you receive correspondence like that, you should take steps necessary to see that others who are not involved with your case do not have access to this communication so as to preserve the privilege.
Guidelines for Signing Your Documents
When we started practicing law, signing was easy. You put pen to paper. Now, it’s a little more complicated and we include document signing in our Guidelines. While pen and paper still works, we don’t think it’s the easiest, fastest way to sign documents in most cases. On June 30, 2000, the Federal Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act or “ESIGN” was passed. By the way, in 2010 Congress declared June 30 “National ESIGN Day”. So, if you were looking for a reason to celebrate mid-year, now you have one.
ESIGN covers all signed documents in interstate or foreign commerce, and prohibits parties to a transaction from refusing to honor digital signatures, but it does not require parties to use digital signatures. For years, we have been using a product called DocuSign. There are other products available, but we’ve grown to like DocuSign, have figured out how to fix most problems we experience, and it’s universally recognized and used trouble-free by most people. If we use DocuSign for a document you are involved with, you will get a link to the document you can view. If you are a signing party, you will then adopt a signature and digitally sign the agreement by clicking where we indicate. Once everyone has signed, you will immediately get a digital copy of the fully-signed agreement. As the sender of the DocuSign document, we will have a report showing signer email addresses, IP addresses, time spent with the document on the screen, time of signature, etc.
While ESIGN covers documents involved in interstate commerce, it exempts certain documents from its coverage and some of these are documents we prepare and may need you to sign at some point. Among the ESIGN-exempt documents are wills, codicils, official court documents, and documents filed with government agencies. Like many, we use the term “wet” to describe traditional signatures involving pen and ink. The paper you sign will have the “original wet” signature. Copies and scans of this piece of paper will be “copies of the original wet signature”. All filings with the probate court have to be with the original wet signatures and notarized with an original wet signature of a Notary Public. For filings with any Register of Deeds office, an original wet signature is required and an acknowledgement by a Notary Public. Most Register of Deeds offices now accept digital electronic filings from us as long as we have the original document. This electronic filing speeds up the filing time. The North Carolina Secretary of State’s Office accepts electronic filing for some documents, and requires original wet signatures for other documents. The IRS will not accept a DocuSign signature, but will accept anything that looks like a copy of a wet signature.
We know exactly what type of signature works with any document we prepare, so don’t worry, but don’t get frustrated with us if we change the signature formats on you from document to document. There is a method to the madness.
File Sharing Guidelines
We no longer use paper files, but one of our biggest challenges now is how to keep a well-organized client file for you. Generally, we manage the file and add documents to your digital file as they come in. For this reason, if you send us any sort of notice we would prefer you drop off, fax, mail, or scan the document. Sometimes people take a picture of the document and mail or text us the picture. The quality of these “document pictures” really doesn’t belong in a client file.
For most projects, we’ll keep what we call the Master File on our network. Sometimes we work with others who need access to parts or all of the Master File and might maintain their own files. Keeping a good Master File is a challenge as the number of people involved in a case increases, so we ask that whoever works with a client file make sure the custodian of the Master File gets copies of documents to include in the Master File.
Sometimes we’ll want to share the same file. For drafting, commenting, and revising a common document and for tracking changes over time, we like Google Docs. For sharing large files or working on the same file, like a QuickBooks file, we’ve had good success with Dropbox. If we need, or you think we need, to share files, we’ll work with you on a share-file plan.
Your Records and Files
We retain your file and records relating to professional services that we provide so we are better able to assist you with your professional needs and, in some cases, to comply with professional guidelines. In order to guard your nonpublic personal information, we maintain physical, electronic and procedural safeguards that comply with our professional standards.
Unless previously terminated, our representation of you will terminate upon the conclusion of this matter, our written notice to you that the engagement has concluded and the mailing of our final statement for services rendered in connection with this matter. Following such termination, any otherwise non-public information you have supplied to us which is retained by us will be kept confidential in accordance with applicable rules of professional conduct. For various reasons, including the minimization of unnecessary storage expenses, we reserve the right to destroy or otherwise dispose of any such documents or other materials retained by us within a reasonable time after the termination of the engagement.
We send out bills on a regular basis by email. If you prefer to receive a bill by mail, make sure we know. The email bills have a link that allows you to pay by credit card. You may also go to our website at legalcarolinas.com and pay with a credit or debit card. Sometimes the links don’t work with certain devices, so just let us know if you have any problems. Usually, https://secure.lawpay.com/pages/griffingleazer/operating should work for payments from all devices. We use LawPay which is a national merchant card processing company for lawyers. They handle all processing and submit the payment to us. We do not have access to your credit card information from LawPay.
Before sending any wire, call our office at to verify the instructions. We will not change wiring instructions. if you receive wiring instructions for a different bank, branch location, account name or account number, they should be presumed fraudulent. Do not send any funds and contact our office immediately. Failure to follow this procedure endangers your funds.
When we started our firm late in 2019, we decided we wanted to do things a little differently and hopefully better than other firms. These Guidelines are a part of that effort. If you see something we can improve, please let us know.