By: Nicole DeBorde
A client who feels they have access to you is generally a happier client. Even if you are working feverishly on your client’s case, he has no way to appreciate your hard work if you are not communicating your efforts and work to him.
That said, separately updating mothers, sisters, girlfriends, aunts and cousins can lead to significant misunderstandings. The best practice is to get written permission to communicate about a client’s case from the client. This permission should be specific as to the person with whom communication is allowed. Even if a client gives a lengthy list of people who can discuss the case with me, I limit my conversations to a person designated by the family as a spokesperson for the family.
I always invite the client to call or make an appointment to come in whenever they feel it is helpful or necessary to discuss the case. When the accused is in jail, accepting collect calls is usually helpful. I always stress to the client that the calls are recorded, but often times the calls are questions about court dates or other basic procedural matters. If a client has a more specific question, comment or concern that needs to be discussed in person at the jail and we arrange a jail visit. For federal clients in custody, I invite them to set up a Corrlinks account so that we can correspond by email on non-sensitive matters. Clients are typically very grateful for a lawyer’s accessibility, and sometimes just knowing the lawyer is available to answer questions cuts down on anxiety. I make it a point to call clients back the same day or the next day at the latest whenever possible. This includes while I am in trial even if it means returning the calls by cell phone in the evening. Clients who are not called back promptly will take it personally and feel mistreated. Promptly returning calls is great for future business as well as keeping the clients you have happy. Far too many State Bar disciplinary cases are the result of failure to communicate with a client. This is a very easy problem to avoid.
Sometimes, I run into a client who is insistent on doing the opposite of what I am advising or who asks the same questions repeatedly as if the questions have not ever been addressed. In these circumstances, I will write down the information in a letter and even sometimes have the client initial my copy of the letter. This is NOT something I file in court. It is a document for my file and for the client to have something they can refer to if they are having trouble remembering what was discussed. Sometimes having the information to read helps significantly when a client has had difficulty either believing or understanding information.
Many client-lawyer disagreements can be avoided with simple communication. Taking the time to make sure the client’s questions are answered is always worth it – for the lawyer’s peace of mind and the client’s.