I routinely receive questions posed about lawsuits, such as:
- How much is my claim worth?
- Why do I have to deal with an insurance company?
- How long until I receive my settlement check?
All good questions, and ones which deserve to be answered in detail. But these are questions posed not by my clients, but by clients of other attorneys. Why would these people ask a stranger important legal questions rather than their own lawyer?
Benefits of an Informed Client
Far too many people worry about appearing uneducated or unsophisticated and so hesitate from asking questions of their lawyer. Even though, as a lawyer, we work for our clients–presumably for a respectable amount of compensation–too many attorneys treat clients more as underlings rather than the boss. Taking advantage of the timid client, lawyers often deliberately appear too busy or important to thoughtfully discuss a claim and answer a client’s questions. This is not fair to the client, and potentially weakens the case.
Your client deserves to have a clear understanding of their legal matter; what are the theories of liability and what defenses you will likely face. A client that understands the legal claims will have a better appreciation of the risks of litigation. If things go badly in the case, then at least your client has the background information needed to see how the case developed. When you make a settlement recommendation, you can refer back to the legal arguments and supporting evidence so that your client understands the basis for your analysis.
What’s the Damage?
You should also explain all claimed damages clearly – not just generic descriptions like, “possible future medical expenses,” but a discussion with your client’s medical care provider about specific treatments, associated costs, and probability of the treatment being necessary. Develop a catalog of evidence for the defense counsel to support your claims for damages, and share with your client what documentation is needed and why. Often these discussions will uncover additional damages not previously considered.
Also, don’t brush off inquiries from your client about non-monetary outcomes for their lawsuit. Studies show that most personal injury plaintiffs consider an apology and an explanation as to what happened two of the primary reasons they are inclined to sue for their injuries. These non-tangibles are important to people and should not be treated as irrelevant to the outcome of the case.
An added benefit to a strong flow of questions from your client is the perspective of a lay person attempting to understand the law as applied to the particular facts. Your client is likely much more similar in view and interpretation to members of the jury than are you. Questions raised by your client will probably be echoed by jury members if you do not make a point of clearly providing the answer during testimony. If your client is confused about the legal arguments supporting the case, then a jury will probably be even more confused.
Litigation, particularly a personal injury claim, is a collaboration between client and attorney. By encouraging questions, your client will be better informed and better able to contribute more productively toward the common goal of a successful outcome. And the risk of a surprise ending to the litigation will be greatly diminished if your client has been engaged throughout the process. Encourage questions and you might just learn something when you formulate the answers.