Posts Tagged ‘client communications’

Client Communication – It’s an ethical obligation

Friday, January 10th, 2014

Matthew Brody posted a poll on The Paralegal Group’s listserv asking how important good client communication is to a law firm, with responses running from “not important whatsoever” to “it’s what keeps my firm running.” The answer should be the latter. However, the importance of client communication lies not just in the fact that effective client communication keeps a firm running smoothly. It is an ethical obligation under the Rules of Professional Conduct in every jurisdiction of which I am aware. (I deal extensively with ways to make communication effective in The Empowered Paralegal: Effective, Efficient, and Professional.) Here, for example, is ABA Model Rule 1.4:

Rule 1.4: Communications
Client-Lawyer Relationship
Rule 1.4 Communication

(a) A lawyer shall:

(1) promptly inform the client of any decision or circumstance with respect to which the client’s informed consent, as defined in Rule 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.

(b) A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.

If you run “communication” through the search box here, you’ll come across posts on removing barrier to communicating with elder clients, handling the barriers to communications raised by diversity, and other topics.

Liking Latin and Lawyers

Wednesday, September 16th, 2009

Melissa H. at Paralegalese posts today about lawyers being too intelligent to be liked in “Nobody Likes a Know-It-All.” Meanwhile, Vicki Voison, The Paralegal Mentor, has an ode to the study of Latin and a compilation of many of the Latin terms and phrases that form a good part of the legal lexicon. Both are worth the read and, I contend, the two are likely connected.

I agree with Vicki on the benefits of the study of Latin for those considering the legal profession both because of the Latin contain in law and because the rigors of analysis required for the study of Latin is also useful for the study of law. My own exposure to the language began as an altar boy and continued through the conquest of Gaul in high school. However, while it is essential that both lawyers and paralegals know and understand the many Latin legal terms, use of those terms when speaking with clients is likely to be a mistake. As Melissa says,

But those attorneys (and anyone else, for that matter) who have a deep desire to share their intellectual prowess with others for no reason other than to prove how smart they are probably need to work on toning it down a bit.

I especially encourage paralegals to drop Latin (an other legal jargon) when speaking to clients. Sure, the use of such phrases between the paralegal and attorney act as good shorthand, allowing quick and effective coverage of complex topics. But the client is quickly lost when slogging through a swamp of legal jargon and Latin phrases. This is one of many barriers to client understanding and full participation on the legal team. If you must use a Latin legal phrase, remember that it has an English translation that might actually be understood by a client, making client management easier. The paralegal can, and should, use the English translation or explain the Latin phrase when speaking to the client, acting literally as a interpreter between the attorney and the client. Melissa puts the point well:

Knowledge and education are wonderful things when they serve clients’ needs, and therefore the firm’s needs. But empathy, understanding, and the ability to communicate on the client’s level are also necessary parts of meeting these goals.

Client Management – Phone Calls

Thursday, August 13th, 2009

In her comment to yesterday’s post on Honesty Lynne DeVenney of Practical Paralegalismcorrectly notes:

A great way to avoid telling whole or partial untruths, and still protect your attorney when he or she needs some “do not disturb” time to meet deadlines, is to simply say, “Mr. Jones is not available at this time.  May I help you or take a message?”

The professional paralegal knows how to manage a client in this manner.  Such client management should begin with the initial interview.  Make it clear your office represents many clients and you have a system for seeing that each case is treated with the utmost of professional care. When you and the attorney are working on that client’s case, it (and they) will receive undivided attention.  In turn, when you or the attorney are working on another client’s case, it must also receive undivided attention. Remember this means you cannot take calls or allow other interruptions when you are interviewing the client!

While establishing means for communication to the client, explain your office procedures, including rules, for communications from the client such as when must the client communicate with you, e.g., if he is contacted by an adjuster or investigator, if there is a change in her medical condition or simply once a week at a set time;  when to expect responses from you or the attorney to calls or other communications, e.g., within twenty-four hours, only between 2:00 and 4:00 p.m.; and when a client should acknowledge communications from you.

Of course, this  means the client must be called back. When the client isn’t called back (whether by you or the attorney), the client calls you back. Some clients call back sooner and more often than others. Some are impatient. Some are down right testy and rude. Have some pity on the person at the front desk and make things easier for yourself at the same time.  Establish rules and policies for calling back. More important, establish mechanisms for calling back and let the client know what those mechanisms are.

Instruct the receptionist, or if your calls go directly to your voicemail leave an informative outgoing message, on how calls will be returned. For example, the receptionist might say “Ms. Forest will be returning clients calls between 2 and 4 this afternoon, can I schedule a telephone appointment for you then?”  Any general rules your office makes about managing phone calls should include provisions for both protecting your and your attorney’s time and time for returning the calls.