Transcending Client Communications
Jeremy R. Krum is an associate with Armstrong, Donohue, Ceppos & Vaughan, Chartered, in Rockville, Maryland. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All lawyers appreciate the ethical and practical guidelines of keeping clients reasonably informed. It doesn’t take long to realize, though, that keeping clients informed is an arduous and time-consuming responsibility. By adhering to these five practice tips, you can rest assured that you have not only satisfied your ethical duties as an advocate and counselor, but also that you have fully prepared your client and provided quality representation:
Forward all notices and orders with reports.
Send brief summaries and assessments of court notices, orders, and memoranda to the client. Reporting saves the client time and earns dividends on client satisfaction. Clients appreciate receiving copies of relevant and important documents for their own review for their personal records. More importantly, clients appreciate receiving your frank explanation as to the nature and content of those documents. Take this opportunity to keep the client apprised of and interested in the case.
Forward all discovery and depositions with your substantive analysis.
Written discovery responses, depositions, exhibits, witness statements, and other discovery should be offered to the client, if they desire them. Even if they don’t, the most pertinent case dispositive discovery should always go to the client. Develop the practice of providing both a subjective and objective analysis of the substantive facts and applicable law as the case develops. The client can make an informed decision only if he or she has a complete, accurate, and straightforward understanding of the case.
Encourage client meetings and conference calls with every letter.
Keep the client involved as the case progresses by encouraging meetings and conference calls every time you report. Even if you don’t meet with the client often, make yourself available, and keep the client aware that you are available when they need you. Active clients will respond, and inactive clients will know they are in good hands.
Personally review your active cases with a complete assessment no less than once every three months, and never let an active case go more than three months without a client contact. Even if you inform your client that there is “nothing new” to report, the client will appreciate the update. A firm diary or personal diary system will most often prevent you from forgetting important deadlines and from leaving the client in the dark.
Make the case the client’s case, not the lawyer’s case.
Keeping the client informed includes keeping the client as the decision maker. Always present the options available to the client with a risk-benefit analysis, and make sure to obtain client approval for decisions. For more tactical decisions, such as choosing the best expert witnesses and crafting legal arguments, obtain client approval both as a matter of courtesy and as a matter of ethics. Always listen to the client, but make sure the client also listens to you.
If clients know that their input is not only important, but necessary, they will keep themselves close to the case. And when that one small and seemingly innocuous case turns into a client’s worst business disaster, you’ll be glad your client is informed and ready to address the problem. Last but not least, with refinement of these practical tips, when you close the case, you will know that you still have a client.
- The Lawyer’s Toolkit. 2006. PC # 5150305P. General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division.
- Letters for Lawyers: Essential Communications for Clients, Prospects, and Others, Second Ed. 2004. PC # 5150290. General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division.
- How to Get and Keep Good Clients, Second Ed. 1994. PC # 5110347. Law Practice Management Section.