The most frequent complaint registered against attorneys to bar associations—and the basis of more than one third of all malpractice claims—is that the lawyer failed to adequately communicate with the client. These complaints range from, “my lawyer doesn’t return my calls,” and, “my lawyer didn’t explain the consequences of the agreement,” to, “my lawyer didn’t do what I wanted or get my consent.”
Many times, failures of communication are really failures of connection. You may in fact be providing information to the client, but in a way that isn’t successful. Different people process information in different ways, depending upon a number of characteristics and circumstances. Understanding this can go a long way to helping you avoid some of these common complaints.
Speak To Your Client In Clear Language and Probe For Understanding
Some clients are sophisticated and able to handle jargon-filled conversations and documents. Others need more simplified explanations. Take your cues from your clients: match their language, listen to their questions, ask follow-up questions to check their understanding.
Keep in mind that a client’s circumstances can affect her ability to comprehend. Even the most sophisticated or experienced client may not process everything when meeting with you about serving as the executor of her father’s estate when she is still dealing with the recent death. You may need to repeat some instructions or follow up with even simple requests a week or two later.
Ask Your Clients About Their Preferred Communication Methods
Note that people from different generations often prefer communicating in different ways. Baby boomers may appreciate a phone call or face-to-face conversation while those from Generation Y rarely answer their phone or listen to a voicemail message. The best way to avoid frustration and missed messages is to establish at the outset of a representation the expected communication methods. Ask your client how they want you to reach them and adapt to the client’s preferences rather than forcing them to adapt to you. You may find that you will need to text some clients asking them to open an email or inquiring if you can speak with them on the phone.
No matter how your client prefers to be contacted, always preserve a written record of any interaction, especially any instructions, requests for consent, information about deadlines, or sharing of responsibilities. This is helpful both for making sure nothing is overlooked and for reference should a dispute arise later.
Provide Updates Proactively
Keep your clients up to date on what is happening with their matters even before they ask, and even if only to say that nothing has happened since the last update. This shows the client that you haven’t forgotten him and that you are monitoring the situation. Remember that, while it may be one out of hundreds of matters you are handling, it is likely your client’s only case and looms very large for him.