Ask Attorney Jennifer B.: Keeping Clients Up to Date
Most clients have the desire to participate in the critical decision making necessary to resolve their case, and they should do so. To accomplish this, they need to understand what is happening. As their attorney, you have an obligation to communicate with your clients.
Often unintentionally, once hired, some attorneys do not always prioritize client communication. This often results in frustrated clients who feel ignored or that their matter does not warrant the lawyer’s attention. Clearly, keeping the lines of communication open between you and your clients is key to cementing a strong working relationship. The following tips will help you establish better habits of client communication:
Set Expectations From Day One
Clients may not know what is the appropriate method and level of communication, or the associated fees, when they hire an attorney. Some may pick up the phone or send an email whenever they have a random thought or quick question about their matter. They might send numerous communications – until they get their first bill and realize there is a cost of their inquiries, which might cause them to fear communicating with you again because of the expense. Other clients expect you to simply handle the matter without involving them very much.
As such, it is appropriate to educate clients about your preferred mode of communication at the outset of the case. For example, you might feel it is most efficient to communicate by email or phone calls while you don’t want clients texting you. Advise them on how you expect them to participate in their matter, especially with regard to case strategy and major decisions. Let them know it might be most cost-effective for them to bundle questions into one email rather than send numerous questions in separate emails as they occur. Or, that perhaps, scheduling a phone call or meeting (virtual if in-person is not possible) is the most efficient means of discussing their concerns, questions, or case strategy.
You should also inform them about how quickly they should expect you to respond. Make sure that you don’t give them false expectations because otherwise, you are setting yourself up for failure. For example, it is reasonable to say that you will endeavor to respond to non-emergent inquiries within 24 hours rather than promising to always respond within one hour. If you can get back to a client earlier, that is great, but at least you have a reasonable window to respond if another pressing issue arises, and more importantly, the client is not disappointed because they have not heard from you sooner.
Keep Clients In The Loop
Clients have a right to know what is happening in their matter at all times, and by communicating this information regularly, it will become second nature. Send the client a copy of every piece of correspondence or court pleading that you receive and that you send in their case. If there is a court date that is scheduled in the matter, notify the client when the notice is received, and then again, well in advance of the proceeding. Talk with them about what they can expect and make sure they are fully prepared. It is your responsibility as their lawyer to make sure that the client is ready for every event in the case and present when they need to be in court or for other required appointments.
If you attend a proceeding or meeting in the case without the client, give them a call or send them a letter immediately thereafter to let them know what happened. This should also apply to phone calls that you have with opposing counsel. Let the client know what was discussed and if any progress was made in the case. Send clients drafts of documents that you intend to submit on their behalf. In that way, they are an active part of the decision making in their case, and you are certain that what you are communicating is in line with what the client wants. You further ensure that what you are sending to the court or opposing counsel is factually correct.
Providing the client an update about their case does not have to be formal or lengthy. Oftentimes, a quick email will do. If they contact you with a question or inquiry, and you are busy or don’t have the time to get back to them immediately, a courtesy email to let them know that their inquiry was received and when they can expect to hear back from you can put their mind at ease and let them know that they are still a priority to you.
Set Aside The Necessary Time to Communicate
Frequently, a client has questions that cannot be answered by a quick email. Or perhaps case strategy needs to be discussed. In these instances, good client communication will dictate the lawyer setting aside the necessary time to thoroughly respond and/or to discuss the matter with the client. Schedule a phone conference at a time when you know you will not be interrupted, and during the conference, do your utmost to really listen to your client and thoughtfully respond to their questions or take the necessary time to explain the case strategy.
If you need more time to research an issue or think about a plan of action, let the client know that. They will appreciate your attention to their matter. After a lengthy call where you may have discussed a number of different issues with the client, it is often worthwhile to prepare a letter summarizing your discussion so you’re both on the same page. This will also prove to be a helpful reminder to you about what you discussed and/or decided as you navigate forward in the case.
Communicating with clients is an integral part of the lawyer/client relationship, and often the most rewarding. Clients truly appreciate being informed and having an active role in their legal matters. Developing a professional relationship where they know they can rely on you to provide updates, thoughtfully answer questions, and keep them apprised is the essence of providing good counsel.