No matter where in Canada you practice, missed deadlines that lead to administrative dismissals continue to be the leading cause of malpractice claims. In British Columbia, “one in every four reports of claims and potential claims to the Lawyers Insurance Fund is triggered by a missed limitation or deadline.”1 In Ontario, nearly half of all claims are related to time management errors.2
The COVID pandemic did provide some relief. In March 2020, courts stopped issuing administrative dismissals, even if a deadline or limitation date was missed. And while in some provinces the suspension has expired, in others it’s unclear when dismissals will resume. So, regardless of the jurisdiction, all professional liability insurers recommend firms now adhere to pre-pandemic deadlines.
Small Mistakes Can Have Big Consequences
In Ontario, LawPRO reports an average claim cost of over $30,000, while in BC you can expect to be out $5,000 to $10,000 just for the insurance deductible. And then there’s the cost of lost billable hours. Instead of focusing on client work, you’ll spend much of your day working with your insurer. Finally, if that’s not enough, consider the risk of losing your client and the impact on your and your firm’s reputation.
Six Recommendations to Avoid a Claim
With the prevalence of deadline-related litigation claims, it’s no surprise that insurers offer extensive resources to help firms avoid liability. In BC, the Lawyers Insurance Fund (LIF) website features its “Beat the clock” guide. Ontario firms can download LawPRO’s “Litigation Claims Fact Sheet”. In Alberta, the Alberta Lawyers Indemnity Association provides a breadth of resources through its website.3
All of these sources agree on six key recommendations to avoid deadline-related claims:
- Know the rules. Familiarize yourself with limitation dates and notice periods. Your local law society or liability insurer can help.
- Use a tickler system. Practice management software and tickler systems provide a centralized record of all the firm’s limitation dates and will alert relevant staff to approaching deadlines. (According to LIF, 86% of missed deadlines due to oversights are from flawed firm systems for managing dates.)
- Communicate clearly. Let clients and third parties know what actions you need them to take and when.
- Keep a paper trail. Take detailed notes of your conversations. Send letters to confirm your instructions and advice. And send a letter to document follow-up from clients or third parties that is falling behind.
- Don’t rely exclusively on email. According to both LawPRO and LIF, “clients and lawyers may miss the meaning of what is said, read between the lines and make incorrect assumptions, and they might overlook an email.” They recommend arranging at least some face-to-face meetings or phone calls.
- Check documents before sending. According to LIF, 11% of missed deadlines due to oversights are from mistakes in documents. They recommend firms “avoid the blind use of a precedent without careful review of the new document.”
Why is a document automation company writing about administrative dismissal? Because most deadline-related issues involve a document, whether it’s the timely filing of a court form or a well-timed letter. That’s why we include letters in addition to court forms in Automated Civil Litigation (ACL5), our document automation system. And it’s why we include a tickler system (Task Manager) as a standard feature of our software. We can answer all your questions about how it works through the “Contact Us” section of our website.
For more on this topic, see our post, Rule 48.14: Case Dismissed. Nearly seven years after its publication, it’s still one of our most popular (and relevant) posts.
(1) Lawyers Insurance Fund. Beat the clock. https://www.lif.ca/Website/media/Shared/docs/insurance/beat-the-clock.PDF. June 2013.
(2) Lawyers’ Professional Indemnity Company. Litigation Claims Fact Sheet. https://www.practicepro.ca/practice-aids/claims-fact-sheets/litigation-claims-malpractice/. May 2020
About Michael Sauber
Michael Sauber leads the marketing program for Korbitec, producer of Automated Civil Litigation Software (ACL) and xchangedocs. He has worked with document production technologies and professional services for over 30 years and is a frequent blogger on these topics.