In the legal industry it is imperative that, in addition to providing competent services, attorneys should be expected to appropriately and sufficiently manage and define the expectations of their clients. Clients may have may preconceived expectations about many aspects of their lawyers’ services, ranging from the legal results to be achieved, to their win/loss ratio, and the frequency of correspondence by their lawyers. The best way to address these issues on the front end, is clear and open communication between the lawyer and client. In this consideration, attorneys should strive for transparent and frequent communication with clients, addressing appropriate expectations of timeliness, and clear guidelines to upon completion or termination of representation.
Attorney/client communication can either prevent stress when done skillfully or promote tension if done haphazardly. In an effort to alleviate negative encounters, both attorneys and clients should address objectives, concerns, and approval in a manner that is understandable and respectable to other party. How often we hear we the chief complaint that “my attorney won’t call me back.” Lawyers are, or at least should be compelled, by their professional responsibility of prompt communication with their clients. In Tennessee, Rule 1.4 of the Tennessee Rules of Professional Responsibility obligates any attorney to:
(1) promptly inform the client of any decision or circumstance with respect to which the client’s informed consent, as defined in RPC 1.0(e), is required by these Rules;
(2) reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client’s objectives are to be accomplished;
(3) keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter;
(4) promptly comply with reasonable requests for information; and
(5) consult with the client about any relevant limitation on the lawyer’s conduct when the lawyer knows that the client expects assistance not permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.
We are bound by our code of ethics to maintain open and transparent communication with our clients, especially regarding the scope of services provided, proper explanation of the law, courses of action, limitation periods, and a proper risk analysis. Addressing these issue areas ensures that our clients will comfortably understand the litigation process and be able to voice concerns with some familiarity, and the attorney is hedged from unreasonable or unrealistic requests and expectations.
However, both parties should assume responsibility for punctual engagement within their roles in the legal process. Attorneys must ensure that they communicate to their client the estimated time it will take to complete the engagement or matter as it pertains to the account of the assumptions, facts, or circumstances, any foreseeable circumstances that may alter the time estimate, or appropriate milestones of progression. These explanations must also be extended for any third party agents within the process, as the addition of mediators, investigators, experts, or other personnel. Clear indication of their roles and actions within the legal process can serve to keep the client apprised of the matter on an ongoing basis. Similarly, the client must also bear a duty to effectively communicate pertinent information to their attorney. In maintaining transparency within timekeeping practices, clients can rest assured that their attorney will advise them accordingly.
Lastly, Lawyers should remember to take care to clearly advise the client of the facts or circumstances in which termination or withdrawal by the lawyers is a possibility. These include a client’s failure to pay retainers or accounts in accordance with the retainer agreement, existence of an inescapable conflict of interest, or any outstanding terms of the representation agreement that may be unique to the situation. Upon completion or termination, the lawyer should appropriately notify the client in accordance with rules of professional conduct, act within the application of trust conditions, report the outcome, and co-operate within transitional guidelines should the client select a successor lawyer as to minimize expense and prejudice to the client. Personally, I like to send a “disengagement letter” telling the client that our firm’s representation has ended, but that I would be happy to assist in the future if they have any follow-up legal needs.
Over all frequent and clear communication with a client ensures that the attorney-client relationship is built in a manner that compels the best possible work experience. Given the high-stress environment of legal proceedings, it is imperative to minimize any peripheral catalysts for stress as it ensures that both parties are guaranteed an affable work relationship.