By: Alan Freed
It goes without saying that, in selecting a lawyer, you want someone who is skilled and experienced, someone who will advise you and protect your interests. But here’s something you may not have considered as you choose who will represent you: How well does that lawyer communicate with their clients?
Each year, the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel of the Missouri Bar issues a report describing complaints made against lawyers, and each year the same issue rises to the top of the dissatisfaction list: communication. In 2017, out of 696 complaints, 317, or over 45%, were over the issue of communication. For 2016, of 694 complaints, 352, or over 50%, resulted from communication problems.
It should come as no surprise that clients dealing with personal crises, such as divorce and other family-related issues, want their lawyers to respond to their questions promptly. Everyone recognizes lawyers are busy professionals, often spending hours in trials, depositions, and other activities that keep them away from their desks. But with the availability of email and cellphones, it has never been easier to maintain attorney-client communications.
So what should you expect from your lawyer?
- Every inquiry deserves a prompt response. While we may not all agree about what is “prompt,” the general policy in our office is that every call should be returned every day. Sometimes, particularly if a lawyer is in trial or lengthy depositions, that may mean that an assistant or paralegal makes the return call. But you shouldn’t have to wait more than a day to hear back, regardless of the nature of your question.
- You should know about everything that goes on in your case. That means that when your lawyer receives a legal document or letter or email that relates to your case, you should be provided with a copy promptly. If that document requires an explanation, your lawyer or someone on your lawyer’s staff should give you that explanation. If you don’t understand the explanation, let your lawyer know. It also means that when your lawyer sends an email or letter or files a document with the court, you should know about it.
- You should receive billing statements from your lawyer on a regular (usually monthly) basis, and the statements should describe, in detail, what has been done in your case. Of course, if your lawyer is communicating with you on a regular basis, nothing on that bill should come as a surprise. If you don’t understand the bill or if there is an error, you should let your lawyer know right away so it can be explained or corrected.
- You should clearly understand any settlement documents you are asked to sign. If the language in the agreements doesn’t make sense to you, make sure your lawyer either explains it or re-writes it so that it does make sense. It’s never okay for the lawyer to say, “Well, that’s just standard language.”
Communication between you and your lawyer should be clear, prompt, and regular. The family law attorneys at Paule, Camazine & Blumenthal will work diligently to assure you are always kept informed about all of the details of your case.