A good law firm will establish clear lawyer-client communication expectations. In a personal injury case, procedures follow a general pattern, with the law firm acting as the organizer. The firm must communicate with the client key actions like doctors’ appointments, depositions, and hearings.
This Morris & Dewett Personal Injury blog post will lay out why these expectations are important, establish the communication standards you should have for attorneys, and how a skilled and client-focused Louisiana and Texas attorney should communicate during every phase of your case. You'll also learn about your obligations in the lawyer-client relationship.
Why Is Having Expectations for Client Communication Important?
Having expectations for attorney-client communication is vital. If you don't establish standards for client communication, you can easily choose the wrong attorney, who may not have the experience, ethics, or resources to handle your case. As a result, you may not receive the compensation and justice you deserve.
For example, suppose you want to hire a personal injury lawyer for a wrongful death case. Without clear standards and expectations for client-attorney communication, you may hire someone who can't educate you about the legal process. They may also lack the resources, ability, and ethical standards to:
- Consult you about goals
- Submit paperwork ahead of time
- Promptly respond to your queries
- Guide you through the lawsuit process, from complaint to settlement or trial
- Provide enough information to participate in decisions about your case
This can cause a variety of negative consequences, including:
- Decreased awards
- Missed statute of limitations deadlines, leading to an inability to file your lawsuit
- Stress from unwanted procedures — for example, if your attorney chooses settlement or trial against your wishes or without consulting you
What Communication Standards Should I Have for Attorneys?
Communication refers to the lawyer's ability to keep you informed and correspond with you as your case unfolds.
- Keep clients reasonably informed about the status of an issue and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information
- Explain matters so you can make informed decisions about the case
- Consult with you about how to meet your goals
- Promptly comply with requests for information
- Give you enough information to participate in decisions concerning your case
In general, a client-focused attorney should provide a general summary of your case within a business day of requesting it from your attorney. You should also expect your attorney to return your emails, texts, and calls within a business day. If your attorney doesn't respond within this timeframe, they should have a legitimate reason for why they can't answer your question on time — for example, internet problems, a heavy caseload, or being in court for another case.
If your lawyer fails to answer your calls, texts, and emails after a week and refuses to update you, you should address this problem with them. If they minimize your worries and refuse to fix these communication problems, consider finding another lawyer for your situation. Otherwise, you may not get the representation and compensation you deserve.
Should My Attorney Walk Me Through My Case?
Yes. A reliable and communicative attorney teaches you how to start a case and walks you through your case. They should also break down every step of your lawsuit, including:
During this stage, you and your lawyer describe the facts of your case and the relief you’re seeking.
After filing a complaint, the court will send the defendant — the individual(s) or entities you’re suing — a document called a summons. A summons is a form prepared by your lawyer and issued by the court that informs the defendant that they’re being sued. A sheriff or another authorized person usually serves the summons.
Your lawyer should explain how the summons process works and how the next steps will play out.
Also known as discovery, legal discovery is a pre-trial procedure where each party investigates the facts of the case through the rules of civil procedures. They accomplish this by getting evidence from the opposing side(s) and others through various discovery devices, including:
- Requests for the production of documents
- Requests for admissions
The right personal injury lawyer will prepare you for discovery by walking you through the discovery process. They should also train you to:
- Listen carefully
- Think before you speak
- Avoid absolutes like never and always, which opposing counsel can use against you
- Avoid overthinking
- Avoid assumptions
- Avoid exaggerations
Before going to trial, most lawsuits are resolved through settlement, a formal agreement where you agree to forego going to trial in exchange for monetary compensation from the defendant.
Your lawyer will help you determine whether settlement or trial is a better choice for your case.
If you and the defendant can’t reach a fair settlement, you can proceed to trial.
Your lawyer should educate you on the trial process by discussing the following:
- The risks of trial. Trial isn’t always the right choice. Your lawyer should discuss the pros and cons of trial versus settlement to help you make an educated choice,
- The evidence. Your lawyer should strengthen your case by reviewing your affidavits and your testimony at discovery. They should identify weaknesses and mistakes you can correct at trial.
- Your emotions. A top-notch lawyer should also consider your feelings and help you manage your emotions. If you’re giving testimony, they should familiarize you with the courtroom process by taking you to the courtroom and having you speak and sit on the stand a few days before the trial. They should also explain court etiquette and procedures, so you know what to expect.
How To Determine Whether a Lawyer is a Good Communicator
To determine whether a lawyer is a good communicator, read their bio. A good communicator should have:
Current and past customers should be impressed by a client-focused lawyer's knowledge and experience. Therefore, the lawyer should have at least a four-star rating on Google, Avvo, and other review sites.
Excellent Peer Review Ratings
Your lawyer should also have excellent peer review ratings.
One of the most pre-eminent peer review rating systems in the legal world is the Martindale-Hubbell® Peer Review Rating system, which empowers legal professionals to rate their peers' legal ability and ethical standards in a specific practice area.
Once the review process is done, an attorney may receive one of the following Martindale-Hubbell® Peer Review Ratings:
- AV Preeminent®. This is the highest peer rating standard. Attorneys who receive this rating are ranked at the highest level of professional excellence for their communication skills, legal expertise, and ethical standards by their peers.
- Distinguished. This is an excellent rating for a lawyer who has some experience and is widely respected by their peers for their ethical standards and professional achievements.
- Notable. Lawyers with this rating have been recognized by many of their peers for their strong ethical standards.
Legal fee disputes are some of the most common problems clients have with their attorneys. Here's a list of common complaints about fees:
- My bill is too high, and my attorney promised me a fair and affordable bill.
- My attorney billed at a lawyer's rate for work done by a legal secretary or paralegal.
- My attorney did not perform according to my expectations, and I don't want to pay such a large bill.
- My attorney billed me for services they didn't perform.
- My attorney inflated the bill by billing 30 minutes for three-minute phone calls.
- My attorney should give me a discount for making a mistake.
- My bill isn't itemized, so I don't know what services my lawyer performed to earn this bill.
Fortunately, you can avoid these issues by hiring a lawyer who is good at communication. Unlike poor communicators, a client-focused attorney has a transparent fee structure. Specifically, they should take the initiative to:
- Type out a comprehensive fee agreement. A written comprehensive fee agreement will show you what you'll be paying for. If a section of the fee agreement is confusing, ask the attorney to rewrite it until it's clear.
- Ask about your goals. A client-focused lawyer should also regularly ask you about your goals. Remember, lawyers are not mind readers, despite their extensive knowledge of the law and legal procedures. You should explicitly tell them about your goals. That way, they won’t make assumptions on your behalf (i.e., presume that you want to go to court when you want arbitration) and charge you for services you don’t want.
Can I Sue a Lawyer for Being Uncommunicative and Making Mistakes?
While you can’t sue a lawyer for being uncommunicative, you can sue a lawyer for making mistakes due to a lack of communication.
If your lawyer makes a mistake in handling your lawsuit that no reasonable lawyer would have made, and you lose money due to this mistake, you can sue the lawyer for malpractice. For example, you can sue your lawyer for settling a case without your consent.
What Are My Obligations in the Lawyer-Client Relationship?
Your lawyer is only one part of the lawyer-client relationship. Accordingly, you also have obligations to make sure the lawyer-client relationship goes smoothly. Specifically, you should:
- Trust your lawyer and tell them everything they need to know. Be honest with your lawyer. Tell them everything you know about your case so they can guide you through the lawsuit and negotiation process. Otherwise, your lawyer may make incorrect assumptions about your goals. Attorneys are required to keep whatever you tell them confidential, so you should tell them everything you know and want to know about your case.
- Follow through on what you said. For example, if you said you'd give your lawyer the photos and videos you took of the car accident on May 25th, you should do that.
- Inform your lawyer of new developments. Tell your lawyer about your injuries and new evidence that could support your claim. They can then use this evidence to strengthen your claim.
- Respect your lawyer's schedule and time. Your lawyer probably has many other cases to deal with. As such, you should respect their time and schedule.
- Provide information promptly. Your attorney must file certain documents on and ahead of deadlines. For instance, the statute of limitations in Texas is two years for personal injury actions. If your lawyer misses the deadline, you can't file that case to recover damages.
- Tell your lawyer when you'll be unavailable. This will help your lawyer plan ahead, resulting in little to no missed meetings and deadlines.
- Ask your lawyer if anyone else is working on your case. Since you're paying the bill, you have the right to ask who will work on your case. Consider asking the following:
- Will law clerks or paralegals prepare my case? If so, will I receive separate charges for their services?
- Will the lawyer oversee the law clerks' and paralegals' work and make necessary corrections?
- Will the lawyer recommend another firm or law firm if they can't handle my case? If this happens, what fees will I have to pay?
- Pay your bills. Lastly, you should pay your bills. However, if you believe that your lawyer is charging unfair rates or has charged you for a service they didn't perform, you should talk to them about it.
Hire a Reliable Texas and Louisiana Personal Injury Lawyer Today
Finding a communicative personal injury lawyer in Texas and Louisiana can be challenging. Without the right connections and experience, you can easily pick a lawyer that doesn't fit your needs.
That's where Morris & Dewett's client-focused personal injury lawyers come in. Compassionate, knowledgeable, and tenacious, our personal injury attorneys are expert communicators who prioritize your needs before their own. We will thoroughly analyze your case, draft and file paperwork on and ahead of time, and fight tooth and nail to maximize the compensation you deserve. That way, you will have an easier time rebuilding your life and recovering from your injuries and losses.