Failing to communicate is often cited as the top source of complaints against lawyers — focus on the essentials to stay both compliant and effective.
The challenge of keeping up with the growing number of communication paths offered by new technology was covered in a recent post on Law Practice Tips from Jim Calloway, Director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program. As he explains,
We have all heard the truism that the greatest single source of complaints against lawyers is failing to communicate. This used to largely mean failing to return phone calls. But now, as readers are aware, there are numerous technology-based paths a client can use to communicate with you. The fact that there are so many methods of communication can make tracking and responding to client inquiries more challenging. It is appropriate to limit the clients’ use of some of these methods. Just because a client first contacted a law firm via its Facebook page doesn’t mean it is appropriate to use Facebook Messenger to communicate during the representation.
Bad or nonexistent communication with clients has many other negative consequences. If a critical phase is underway in litigation and the client doesn’t get a response to their inquiries, a client’s attitude can rapidly go from offended to angry to worried that something has gone wrong with their legal matter. The client may forgive the communication failure, but they also may not forget. Damaging the bond of trust between attorney and client is something we all want to avoid. If the client feels they have been avoided and ignored at times during the representation, the client may be more skeptical of the lawyer’s recommendation about the resolution of the matter.
The following ways to improve client communication in law practice in his article:
- All significant client communication must be documented in the client file.
- Delegation of communication tasks can improve efficiency.
- What is the lawyer’s value?
- Use simple and clear language.
- Appreciate the importance of nonverbal aspects of communication.
- What creates unhappy clients? Violating their expectations.
- Billing is also a client communication opportunity.
Best Practice Checklist for Massachusetts
We’ve previously compiled a list of questions about law practice procedures to help you perform a self-audit of best practices. This checklist was developed with consideration given to the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct, and includes the following questions:
- Do you have established telephone and email policies and procedures?
- Do you explain to all firm employees the critical importance of handling all calls and emails with professional courtesy?
- Do you return client and potential clients’ phone calls and emails within 24 hours?
- Do you discuss the recommended course of action with clients at a time and place conducive to a good exchange of information and questions?
- When you speak to a client in-person or via telephone, do you record notes and attach those notes to the client’s file?
- Do you send follow-up correspondence after a meeting or a telephone conversation in which new decisions have been reached?
- Do you have a system to notify clients of the results of motions on their cases and then document to the file?
- Do you follow up with clients at least every six weeks even when their cases are inactive?
- Do you ask the client for feedback as the matter moves along?
Find additional best practices for law practice management here. The checklist covers other key areas of law practice management, including client intake, confidentiality, conflicts of interest, records management, calendaring, marketing, staff management, and more.
Tech Tool: Client Portals
Setting Boundaries: Teach Your Clients How YOU Want to Communicate. For more on how client portals can improve communication in your firm, watch this free 20-minute on-demand installment of Webinars for Busy Lawyers presented by Laura O’Bryan, Esq.
Client Portals Are Now an Essential Service for Law Firms to Offer. From Jim Calloway’s Law Practice Tips blog (January, 2021).
Client Portals: A Must-Have Service for Today’s Law Firms. Jim Calloway’s detailed recommendations on Attorney at Work (June 2021).
Free & Confidential Consultations:
Lawyers, law students, and judges in Massachusetts can discuss concerns with aw practice advisor, a licensed therapist, or both. Find more on scheduling here.