Similar to any service oriented profession the legal profession must view client relations as the most important aspect to ensuring the success of their organizations bottom line. A lot of legal professionals mistakenly believe that their legal prowess is enough. The number of complaints to the bar regarding client relations and specifically communication issues should dispel this unfounded belief. When a person goes to paralegal or law school they are taught how to manage cases but little attention is given to how to effectively manage client relations. It is not only good business practice to focus on the factor that determines the success of a case and ultimately a practice but it is necessary. It is understandable how this critical element can be missed when dealing with a case or matter because it is not the client that makes decisions on motions, verdicts, and the like. So the attention is placed on voir dire, shepardizing, and negotiating. Which is great for winning a case, but where in this mix does winning the client fall? What good is it to have the best jury if the client does not have enough trust to disclose critical information that their attorney and the star jury find out at the same time? When a client is treated as an afterthought to all of the other aspects to a case the complaints and malpractice suits are sure to follow. In order, for this practice to be reversed legal professionals must start with the root of the problem. Communication. Communication is the key factor to sustaining any healthy relationship. Without it even cupid’s arrow can’t bring the love back.
According to the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct: Rule 1.4 attorneys are required to communicate with their clients in five specific instances. Although, the ABA is a voluntary association all states except California model their rules of professional conduct after the ABA’s. Even California’s rule focuses on these instances. There are five instances that an attorney is required to communicate with their client. These five instances have been broken down into the following four areas:
The instance to inform the client when decisions need to be made and to inform the client when the client expects the attorney to provide a service that the attorney can not due to the Rules of Professional Conduct have been combined into one, creating the Legal Professionals Client Relations Wheel. Focusing on the quadrants in this wheel is an easy way to bring client relations and communication into the mix of effectively working a case or matter.
The percentage expresses the amount of time that should be spent on that particular quadrant. Informing the client is given the most time because all of the other quadrants are dependent on informing the client. Responding to a client is given the least amount of time because if a client is properly informed they should not be calling with questions and status updates. Receiving numerous inquiries from a client is an indication that they have not been informed and educated properly. Being proactive with client communication by informing, consulting with, and effectively educating them should minimize the time spent responding to requests for status updates and questions.
With all of the work that goes into working on a case, communicating with clients may seem to be a small aspect of ensuring the success of a particular matter or case, but it is crucial. Taking the time to pay attention to client relations ensures that legal professionals are staying in compliance with their responsibilities to their clients and reduces the likelihood of complaints.