Writing to clients includes three phases: primer, case progress, and debriefing.
Communication is one of the quintessential pillars of an excellent attorney-client relationship. It is imperative the lawyer communicates clearly to a client:
- what representation entails,
- cost of representation,
- duties and responsibilities of both lawyer and client, and
- when the attorney-client relationship terminates.
Sample retainers and cover letters should always be personalized. It is also ethically and financially wise to ensure an attorney-client relationship is not inadvertently created. A letter rejecting a matter previously discussed orally is always advised.
Case Progress Reports
Communication throughout the case builds trust, assuring the client of the attorney’s diligence and transparency of the relationship. Case progress reports accomplish this best. Reports should be short, include headings for easy access to information, and place important information at the top. If an upcoming deadline requires the client’s presence, the date, time, and location should be included in a separate bold sentence. Confirm oral discussions in writing. Attorneys assume a real risk by relying solely on in-person or telephone conversations to gauge the client’s understanding.
A status report accomplishes three things:
- provides pertinent information regarding the client’s case so the client can make informed decisions about the recommended course of action,
- assures the client the attorney is diligently pursuing his case, and
- covers the lawyer’s assets and prevents doubts about the effectiveness of client communication.
Accuracy, grammar, and spelling are crucial in building and maintaining strong, trustful, attorney-client relationships. While it may seem trivial, ensuring the client’s name is spelled correctly may not garnish any extra confidence points, but misspelling his name detracts considerably.
Client debriefing is crucial regardless of how the attorney-client relationship ends. Finalization of the case requires a closure letter, while other types of termination require a disengagement letter.
A closure letter should:
- explain the result of the case as soon as possible after its conclusion;
- summarize the attorney’s work, regardless of the outcome; and
- thank the client for choosing the attorney to represent him.
A disengagement letter should:
- outline the reason for the termination of the relationship;
- confirm either the amount owed, with an itemization of services completed or the retainer reimbursement;
- instruct the client on retaining a replacement attorney with whom the current attorney may discuss the matter;
- outline upcoming deadlines and activities still to do; and
- include a statement regarding any applicable statute of limitations.
Effective writing to clients ensures successful attorney-client relationships and maintains, maybe even boosts, a lawyer’s reputation. Proper form and good substance, both equally important, ultimately contribute to efficacious client advocacy.