The number one client complaint against attorneys is a lack of timely and effective communication with their attorney. It may seem obvious, but when it comes to attorney-client relations communication is truly key. Why is communication so important? And how can a firm ensure timely and effective communication with clients?
Communication is Key
Attorneys are bound by strict ethical duties. In fact, communication is at the forefront of an attorney’s responsibility to a client. We must communicate with clients in two main ways: First, we must keep a client reasonably informed about the status of their matter and promptly reply to reasonable requests for information, and Second, we must explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.
In family and criminal law cases especially, communication is not just about making clients feel more at ease. Communication helps them get a more favorable result! How? Well, unlike many areas of law, a client’s actions and behavior during a family or criminal case are hugely important to the outcome, both for better or worse. Our communication with clients can help them determine how they should act and behave.
And I’m not talking about just in court. Clients can make a huge impact on their case through their actions out of court: going to counseling, rehab, AA, just being more involved in their children’s lives, taking the high road when it comes to personal squabbles, dumping that boyfriend/girlfriend that jeopardizes their case, or by simply refraining from doing whatever led to the case in the first place.
How you should act during the pendency of a case is hugely important, and an attorney that explains this is, in my book, more than a good attorney but a great one. For all the talk about how you should have an aggressive “bulldog” attorney, I bet you didn’t think it’s just as important to have an attorney that urges you to aggressively address your weaknesses to benefit your case.
Of course, communication is also about getting informed consent. We know that doctors must provide informed consent, but this applies every bit as much to attorney-client relations. Informed consent is about giving the good news and the bad news, and the in-between news for that matter. It’s about telling the client how a decision could play out, whether it’s about taking a settlement offer, countering a settlement offer, letting the judge determine the dispute, or even whether Strategy A should be taken instead of Strategy B.
Informed consent is huge. Informed consent is best provided by a local, experienced attorney who knows the ins-and-outs of the law. Perhaps just as important is that the attorney will have all the “insider knowledge”, such as knowing the judge or opposing attorney, needed to give you a more complete overview of possible outcomes.
How Attorneys Can Better Communicate
There are many reasons why attorneys find it difficult to communicate frequently and effectively with clients. The main reason: Our calendars are full. In any given week, between going to court, prepping for court, drafting and reviewing motions and court orders, and meeting potential clients, little time is available. For attorneys, managing time is essential. Many attorneys rely on staff to communicate with their clients. This is certainly necessary at times, but there is no substitute for talking to your attorney.
At TLC Law, we think it’s key that you communicate with your actual attorney—with Ty for family or criminal law matters, or with Kacie for your tax, estate planning and business planning matters. With that said, our availability hinges on our staff doing some of the communication. If you are able to get in touch with your attorney every time you call in, you either have an attorney that’s not very busy (a potentially bad sign) or one that works ALL the time (a very bad sign).
Our staff is prepared to answer the simple questions or the questions that need a short response. We expect that clients will need to be regularly informed about the status of their case. That’s why Kacie or Ty would prefer to talk or meet at set times to address all questions and concerns, especially for complex questions or more intensive discussions. In fact, we have weekly meetings to discuss our clients’ cases, to ensure we are taking the needed action on their cases and communicating with them regularly.
Sometimes effective communication is about setting boundaries and expectations. It’s essential that clients understand how a trial attorney’s schedule works. Our schedules can and must be flexible to account for reset court hearings and trials that go long or are reset without notice that we meet with many people a week that want to potentially hire us, filling up an already crowded calendar; that texting your attorney after hours may not lead to a response; that we can’t be everywhere at once, so we rely on staff to update you at times.
Being a good communicator is not about sugar-coating the realities of attorney-client relations. It’s about telling you what you can expect. We try our best to get questions answered and concerns addressed by fitting what we can into our schedules. We strive to be flexible and available by working late hours and weekends, but we can’t always be available. I let all clients know what to expect regarding communication, how to best contact me, and some best practices regarding communication.
Communication between attorney and client is critical. It helps clients understand the reality of their situation, including what they are up against and what they can do to improve their case. It helps them make the best kind of decision, an informed one. And sometimes it just helps them feel more at ease knowing that we are listening and we do care.
If you are ready to get started with a Tyler Law Firm who values good communication, give TLC Law a call at 903-871-1714.