Over the last year I have had more than a few folks call our offices indicating that they are either displeased with their current attorney, or have been fired and are seeking new counsel. In speaking with multiple individuals, the common themes I hear are that the attorney doesn’t return calls, doesn’t respond to emails, has sparse contact with the client (or none at all), provides no guidance to them and in general I hear that these clients really have no idea what is going on in their cases. So here are some things to think about as far as what you should be able to reasonably expect from your attorney as far as communication.
Lack of Communication
Lack of communication is the number one complaint that I hear from folks and it also happens to be the number one complaint that is lodged against our profession as a whole. What I usually hear from callers is that they are dissatisfied with their attorney because they call the office and never get return calls, or they may have been with their attorney for a couple of years and have only had a few meetings with them that provides them no understanding of the process. Sometimes, in worst case scenarios, I am told that not only is there little or no communication with their attorney, but settlement demands are made without consulting with the client as to value or input regarding their feelings and expectations. What I generally find when individuals are calling me with these concerns is that the client has been left on their own to deal with their injuries and have no one to talk to about concerns they may have about their care, or they don’t understand the process. Callers I talk to are frustrated, angry and scared because they don’t know what to do and feel like the attorney they hired is not helping them the way they thought he/she would.
One of the common sources of this problem that I see is the dabbler (see my prior blog on this subject). I can’t tell you how many times I start looking at a claim and am completely at a loss as to why certain actions have not been taken (I had one case where the prior attorney failed to pursue medical payments coverage on the client’s claim. That’s a benefit the client pays their insurer for and should be a no-brainer for any attorney to obtain…unless they don’t do enough of this to really know what they should be pursuing.) But beyond that, it’s amazing how often I am contacted by individuals who have been represented by dabblers and they have no idea what is going on in their cases because they haven’t been advised. Then when I start asking for them to get documents for me to review they begin finding out that the dabbler doesn’t have them, most likely because they just don’t do enough of this work to know what to look for. It takes five years, at a minimum, to become competent doing personal injury work and in general I find the dabblers just try to do this because they think it is easy money. It’s not.
So what is reasonable communication? It depends. One thing to always remember is that your attorney could be in the midst of dealing with a crisis on another case and simply doesn’t have time to review their emails or messages. I can say that when I am in trial or am in the midst of preparing for it, I am not monitoring my email or messages as I normally do. Our office deals with this by asking our clients to send emails to both myself and my paralegal so that we don’t miss it. We have an easier time with phone calls as we are a small office so our staff always knows what we are doing and can bring matters to me so that they can get back to the client on my behalf (though in all reality, my paralegal has been doing this for so long that she can answer most questions and knows when to bring me into the conversation). But generally, if I’m not dealing with a crisis or preparing a case for trial/hearing in the near future, I try to get back to clients within 24 to 48 hours and often am able to return calls the same day.
It’s Important That We Are Up to Date on Your Treatment
I also try to have appointments with my clients once a month to discuss the status of their healing process and this often turns into a question/answer session regarding what they are experiencing and how to communicate that information to their doctor so that they can get more complete care. In general, my time with the client is more consistent than their doctors and I am generally asking questions to try and understand the client’s health status. Often times, my inquiry will reveal something that the client has not been communicating to the doctor’s office as they are just hoping that the condition will go away, or they think it is just a muscle strain so is not worth mentioning. I correct that misperception and explain that the doctor needs to have all the information to reach a correct diagnosis and treatment plan. On occasion I am told that the doctor tells the client that they are just going to deal with the worst injury for the time being and will return to the secondary injury once that is dealt with. In those circumstances I have to explain that if it doesn’t exist in the records because the client is not mentioning it, then as far as the insurance company is concerned, it doesn’t exist. These are just a few examples of reasons that it is important to have ongoing contact with your attorney. We are experienced in navigating the legal and medical systems, you, most likely, are not.
We Like to Get to Know Our Clients
Beyond the aid I can provide to the client in understanding the process, I find that regular contact allows me to get to know my client and vice versa. If we end up having to file a lawsuit and take the case to trial, I generally find that it is a great advantage for my client and I to know each other. It helps me to find the examples of a client’s condition to communicate to a jury, it helps me to understand my client’s family and what they are experiencing and, most importantly in my mind, it helps the client’s stress level. It also helps me to really show the jury who my client is as a human being so that they can relate to him or her. It’s a lot easier to go through this process if you understand what is happening, and I am a firm believer that if a client’s stress levels are controlled, their healing process is better.
Ask About Office Procedures
Now some clients may prefer to just have their attorney do their thing without interrupting their lives, and many attorneys do very well with that model. I just find that my clients prefer to have regular communication and explanation of what is going on and in my personal opinion, it allows me to have a better grasp of how the traumatic incident (car wreck, injury on someone else’s property) affected my clients which helps me to deal with both insurers and juries if it becomes necessary. If you are one of those folks who prefer to have regular communication, make sure to talk to any attorney you interview about what their office procedures are for meetings and questions before you hire them. While client’s can fire us at any time for any reason, you always have to remember that most attorney’s contracts turn into an hourly rate contract if you fire them and if they have done a lot of work, that can prevent another attorney from taking the case over. The best way to avoid that problem is to address it before you hire the attorney.