Immigration Practice News

October 2012 (Vol. 4, No. 1)

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Prepare Clients for Temporary Office Closure Before You Temporarily by Paul "Woody" Scott I t's unavoidable. It will happen to Every office will have to close because of an emergency, whether it is a manmade disaster, an extended power outage, or a natural disaster. My office was recently shut down for two and a half days as Hurricane Isaac plowed through Louisiana. Although the office was closed, the practice of law did not cease, and the obligations as an immigration practitioner continued, including keeping clients apprised to what is happening and how it affects their case. every office and every practitioner no matter where they are located. Most clients don't expect you to brave dangerous weather conditions, but they do want to know what is happening. Non-immigration attorneys seldom have this problem as majority of their client base is local. They do not feel obligated to communicate with their clients regularly as most live in the same city and are already aware of the storm. Unfortunately, that is not the case in a typical immigration practice where clients are located throughout the country and around the world, and practitioners practice before courts in multiple cities and states. So, what is the best way to keep clients informed in the event of an emergency office closure? Just as with any relationship, the answer is communication. The first step is to make a decision as to when the office will be closed, and for how long. That decision needs to be clearly communicated to all employees. They will in turn communicate the office closure to callers who call and ask. If you have an automated answering system or an aſter-hours answering system put the planned closure on that message system. My office employs a live answering service that is located in another state to answer calls when we are not available and aſter-hours. Before Isaac struck, I notified the answering service of our office closure plans and advised them to notify all callers of this while we were closed. They, in turn, e-mailed me the messages from callers, many of whom were in other countries and would not have known about the hurricane. Because we were able to communicate our planned closure, we avoided clients becoming upset by thinking we were simply ignoring their calls. The closure should also be communicated on automatic responder e-mails for clients that are e-mailing you while you are out of the office. Once we returned to the office we were able to return each telephone call and pick-up right where we leſt off. Luckily, not one person was upset or confused about why they had not heard from us, including courts who called the office while we were closed. This is because the closure, reason for closure, and approximate closure time was clearly communicated to all callers while the office was closed. Close Shop, Remember: • Decide when and how long the office will be closed; • Include exact closure information in automatic e-mail replies as well as automated answering systems; • If necessary, ask outside answering service to relay closure information to clients. Remember, although your office is closed while you whether the storm, client's still care about their case. Effective communication will not only save you from having to explain to each client why his or her phone call was not returned, but you will have complied with your ethical and professional responsibility of keeping the client informed. Paul "Woody" Scott is the founding member of The Scott Law Firm, LLC located in Baton Rouge, LA. He practices primarily in deportation and removal defense, criminal defense of non-citizens, and post-conviction relief. AILA'S PRACTICE AND PROFESSIONALISM CENTER offers 24/7 assistance to members. Find timely resources that offer insight, advice, and opinions on developing your practice, improving firm management, and addressing practical ethics issues such as Using Due Diligence When Selecting a Remote Back-up Vendor. www.aila.org 3

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