When you wake up in the morning, the first thing on your mind is probably not, “Hey I should call my attorney.” In fact, it shouldn’t be. An effective attorney is constantly considering the client’s needs, and engages in reliable communication to meet those needs. The attentive attorney has already mapped out a series of steps that will guide the client successfully through the litigation process, up to, and if necessary, a trial. Early on in my experience, I picked up a phrase from a great mentor, who would tell his clients, “The worrying is my job, not yours.” If a client meets me before a hearing or a trial and expresses any sort of anxiety over the process, I say, “We are already prepared for this. Let me handle your worry. That is my job. Your job is to communicate clearly and effectively with me, and I will handle the rest.” I don’t just say it because it sounds nice. I say it because it is true.
However, there are two sides of the communication coin, and no successful relationship can operate unilaterally. This is especially true with attorney-client relationships. If either person suddenly becomes unavailable, does not respond to phone calls or messages, or otherwise does not provide the information to proceed, the litigation process becomes unnecessarily drawn out. A lag in communication does not render recovery impossible, but it can hamper an otherwise productive relationship. So, what is the solution? Sometimes, stepping back to understand one another better, simple as it sounds, makes all the difference. And here is how you can do it, both as an attorney and a client:
A Law Office Does Not Need to Be A Scary Place
Having worked for over a decade in law offices, I have heard from more than one non-attorney that it can be intimidating to call a law office. There is an assumption of this Chinese wall of foreign-sounding legal terms that could quite literally affect the outcome of a person’s life and livelihood (depending on the nature of the case). One of the first things I tell potential clients is that if they are represented by me, they must consider me to be at their service. Though I may have an imposing desk and wear a suit, it does not mean that I am unapproachable. Like many of my clients, I too have a family and outside responsibilities, and all of the concerns that modern adults have. Sometimes, just communicating this to a client at the first meeting goes a long way in establishing the understanding that I am here, ultimately, to advocate on their behalf.
Lay a Roadmap
Litigation is a strange animal. One moment, it seems like discovery is taking weeks, months, even years in some cases. The only status updates seem to come in the form of bills and records. But then, suddenly,the client’s presence is necessary, and the attorney is calling 24/7 to make sure they know. What gives? First of all, this is not an unusual progression of events. Typically, a client only needs to appear in person on a select few occasions. However, those are important occasions that can seriously affect the case if missed. So, how does an attorney ensure that the client has those dates in bold, underlined, highlighted print in the calendar? Again, this is a problem that can be solved with early and effective communication. On day one, an attorney should explain the basic outline of the litigation process to the client. If it helps, provide a simple graphic that highlights when the client’s in-person participation is necessary. Sometimes, just having a visual can create a picture in the client’s mind of the important, red-letter days. Both attorney and client should talk through these events. Impress upon the client what events would trigger their personal presence. Simply talking through the possibilities can alleviate the client’s anxiety when and if those events occur. I always finish a conversation by stating, “Please share with me any concerns you have about this, and I will address them.” Though the exact dates can not be known with certainty at the start of a case, it helps to alert the client to the possibility.
We Are a Team
In the adversarial world of litigation, it can be easy to fall into defense mode, and immediately speak in a tone that suggests opposition. Some attorneys do this without even thinking, and though they may have nothing but their client’s very best interests at heart, it can be daunting for a client to engage in meaningful communication when they feel at odds with an attorney. The same goes for clients. I can’t tell you how many times a client has called up with the “gloves are on” voice, anticipating what can sometimes be sensitive conversations about incidents that caused great pain. It is at these moments that I remind both my client and myself that, regardless of the pain that personal injury can unfortunately bring to the surface, we are on the same team. As an attorney, I want what my client wants. I know how to go about getting it, and if it means I have to remind the client, in a softer voice, that we are a team, then that is what I must do.
Great communication goes a long way, not only in meeting immediate litigation needs, but also in establishing long-lasting attorney-client relationships. So, even though you probably did not call your attorney first thing this morning, at the very least, the next time you have to call your attorney, remember these steps and make that call a productive one!
Disclaimer – Blog Not Legal Advice – No Attorney-Client Relationship Formed by These Posts or By Any Comments, or By Comments Replying to Comments, on This Blog.
The information and materials on this blog are provided for general informational purposes only and are not intended to be legal advice. The law changes frequently and varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Being general in nature, the information and materials provided may not apply to any specific factual and/or legal set of circumstances.