Over several decades serving as a California injury lawyer, there is one thing that I have heard far too often from people who contact my office seeking to replace the lawyer or firm handling their case. They often complain that the lawyer representing them either does not respond to their phone calls at all, or they do not respond in a timely fashion. I have taught law students and lawyers, and I routinely advise them not to engage in this practice for a variety of reasons that the public should understand.
As lawyers, we work for our clients. We have attorney client agreements with them and it is our job to keep clients apprised of important events that affect their cases. That is a duty we all owe to those whom we represent and it is a duty set forth in our ethical rules. California Rule of Professional Conduct 3-500 states that lawyers must “keep a client reasonably informed about significant developments relating to the employment or representation, including promptly complying with reasonable requests for information and copies of significant documents when necessary to keep the client so informed.” An attorney is not subject to discipline for failing to communicate “insignificant or irrelevant information” (California Business & Professions Code section 6068(m)). The public needs to know and understand that we as lawyers must keep them informed, it is good practice and it creates rapport and trust with our clients.
As a profession, we need to remember that unreturned calls make the caller feel unimportant, ignored or, worse, that the lawyer is not working on their case. This feels like an insult to a client and causes clients to look for a different lawyer who is responsive and empathic.
No one goes to a lawyer because they are happy and content. To the contrary, they seek professional help because they are involved in a dispute they cannot resolve on their own. They are frustrated, angry, hurt, injured, economically challenged and/or in need of help and advice. Keeping this in mind, lawyers who are not responsive might think twice about how they treat their clients.
When dealing with those who have suffered personal injuries and or sustained losses that affect them physically and psychologically, it is most important to stay connected with clients. As is true of many personal injury firms, our firm is a contingency fee law practice. This means that the client does not pay an hourly fee and does not generally pay the costs of litigation but, rather, we pay the costs and are repaid what we spent and are paid a fee if and when we resolve the case either by settlement or trial. Many personal injury law firms have similar arrangements with clients, but it is important for members of the public to make sure that they understand the fee arrangement with the firm they retain. A great deal of information on the lawyer-client relationship can be found on the State Bar of California’s website.
Our clients often have catastrophic injuries like paralysis or the loss of a loved one. We are careful to provide complete and continuing contact and information so that they are part of the case as it progresses. We want them to be comfortable with the fact that we are providing service in an ongoing manner even when a case is moving slowly through the court system.
For example, when handling discovery (the collection of information on which the case will ultimately be presented) which is requested by the other side, we help clients understand what is required of them. This is important for any lawyer-client relationship and you should expect this from the lawyer you retain. It has always been important to us to make sure our clients have access to their lawyer and to someone who can explain things as they progress and assist them in the preparation of the responses to questions and discovery.
Even in our mass torts which involve many clients who have been injured by the same medical device or drug, the lawyers in the firm answer calls of clients who need to talk to their lawyer. Some firms require their clients to deal only with paralegals, rather than a lawyer in the firm. A client retaining a firm needs to know whether this will be the case for them or whether they are hiring a firm, such as our firm, that does not force them to only speak with a paralegal. Having said this, the paralegals in our law firm, like the lawyers, provide compassionate and understanding advice and information. This should be a goal and requirement of all firms and, particularly, personal injury firms.