If you are involved in a legal dispute and retain an attorney to help manage the matter and work through its resolution, there is often voluminous amounts of information that need to be shared between the attorney and client. Often the underlying legal dispute has been years in the making–but faced with conflict we all want the matter resolved sooner rather than later.
On top of this, the situation or dynamic involving the matter may be changing as the litigation moves forward, and to form an effective plan of action to get the matter resolved, as opposed to an ad hoc approach to the issue (which may actually prolong the matter), there must be a strong communication chain between attorney and client.
This is founded on trust–that when you cannot reach him or her–you know your legal matter is still being attended to. This is fostered by communication. There is a right balance in every case, which starts with a clear understanding of the communication chain and expectations.
In order to provide the most efficient method of communication, there are 5 universal aids that can make communication more efficient and less time consuming for attorneys and their clients. In practicing these methods, you can make the most effective use of your time and money, and hopefully get the best outcome for your legal matter.
Consider the following:
1. DO discuss with your attorney about the best method of communication.
Each person has his or her own preferences for communication. Some people prefer to speak over the phone, while others communicate more efficiently through e-mail or in-person meetings. Discuss with your attorney which method is preferred, and try to communicate using that method as much as possible.
Many attorneys communicate best by e-mail or text message because the normal day involves emergencies, deadlines, meetings, and court hearings. With electronic communication, your attorney can respond to you as he or she has time to consider and compose a response to your questions or concerns, after doing research, checking the file, or otherwise.
And attorneys and clients can communicate, if necessary, across vast distances and time zones. The electronic communication has change the face of legal practice, with e-mails often far surpassing traditional paper letters sent through the mail.
2. DO keep a journal/calendar of important events.
With current technology, information is constantly flooding in and can be hard to keep up with and manage in an organized way. Resist the temptation to send your attorney every communication or thought every day, unless this is something you have discussed. Your attorney will want you to be satisfied, but may be burdened by the number of e-mails sent.
An effective way of addressing this situation is to talk with your attorney in advance, with routine informational e-mails being merely reviewed and “filed”, with those that need response being identified as such. Alternatively, keeping a journal and/or calendar of thoughts, notes, and events can help you organize information to filter out what is truly most important and communicate that information to your attorney. This also allows you to remember the material and at the same time, organize it to the benefit of yourself and your attorney.
3. DO utilize your attorney’s staff when possible.
Often, a lead attorney oversees your case, but there are often others in the office who have aided in preparing and filing documents, discussed the case with the attorney, and may now be tasked with the routine management with the ins-and-outs of your case under your attorney’s direction.
If your lead attorney is unavailable, ask to speak with a staff member who may be able to answer your question or pass information along to the attorney for you. It is advisable to have a discussion with your attorney or legal team about who to communicate routine matters and thoughts with and how this will be processed and followed up upon.
In other words, a reminder phone call about a court date may be just as well made to the attorney’s paralegal as the attorney himself. In some cases, there may be strong reasons that this will not work, but again, good communication is accomplished by asking how to do so and setting expectations and understanding the client’s communication process and the client learning the attorney’s style of communicating.
4. DO allow a response time.
If you have sent an e-mail to your attorney, and he or she does not respond immediately, do not worry. They may need to look into a previously filed document or discuss the issue with opposing counsel or another staff member in the office. Following up with a phone call immediately after an e-mail may not allow them the chance to collect all the information they need to properly address the issue.
Allow some time for the attorney to review and respond to your communication. Faced with the pressures of a lawsuit, it is not often easy to remember to allow ample time to respond. However, if you have the trust level with your counsel, it will make you less anxious. If the matter is an emergency or you have not heard from your attorney for a period of days, follow up and check to see how the issue is progressing.
5. DO remember mornings/evenings/weekends and holidays are often times that your attorney may be busiest and/or completely out of reach.
In almost every office, mornings and evenings are always busier. Mornings are busy catching up with communications and follow-ups from the day before. Evenings are often filled with making sure things are completed and done by the proper deadline. If you can communicate during the middle of the day, that may be best for both parties, and keep communications from being rushed.
Again, one set method of communication may not work. However, discussing this with your attorney will set expectations and aid in determining how to best communicate. This is the key to managing the legal process and sometimes making the best of a difficult situation.
Communication is one of the most important aspects of the attorney-client relationship. We hope that this blog has been informative and has given you some ideas about effectively communicating with your counsel. If so, this blog has met its educational goal. Ciyou & Dixon, P.C. advocates practice throughout the State of Indiana. This blog post was written by attorney Bryan L. Ciyou, Esq. and Jessica Keyes.