TOP TEN RULES FOR TREATING CLIENTS
South Orange County | 22952 Mill Creek Drive Laguna Hills, CA 92653 | Phone: (949) 861-3660
After practicing law for 39 1/2 years, I have certain rules that I adhere to in representing clients.
My Top Ten List is as follows:
1. Return Phone Calls and E-mails: In dealing with prospective clients who have already retained legal counsel, their biggest reason for dissatisfaction is the inability of their attorney to communicate with them, especially in not returning phone calls and e-mails. If a client calls you and leaves a message or hits your voicemail, they deserve a reply ASAP.
2. Written Fee Agreements: Under the Business & Professions code, lawyers are required to reduce fee agreements to writing when representing clients in matters wherein the fees are expected to be $1,000.00 or more, or in contingency fee agreements, absent a preexisting arrangement or relationship with the client. The fee agreement must also advise the client that the fee is negotiable, and if the lawyer is not carrying malpractice insurance then the lack of coverage must be disclosed as well.
Most attorney fee contracts are far too long and too complicated for the average client to understand. I have managed to keep my form retainer agreement that I have used since I was first in practice to one page only, and it complies with all requirements imposed on the profession by the professional rules of conduct.
3. Monthly Billing: Clients deserve to get a bill each month on hourly cases so they can see what they are being billed for and address it before problems or dissension arise down the line due to lack of periodic billing.
In contingency fee arrangements wherein the lawyer commonly awaits a resolution of the case before being reimbursed their out of pocket costs, the client should still get a monthly bill so they can keep track of the costs as they occur.
Fees and costs can often influence the client on the course that they want to take with any claim or case, so they need to be kept periodically informed of same in order to make decisions that are appropriate for them.
4. Civility With Opposing Counsel: Exercising cooperation and congeniality with opposing counsel can actually inure to the client’s benefit. When an attorney can effectively communicate with the other party’s attorney, it can help to facilitate a possible settlement dialogue and also help to avoid needless law and motion over discovery disputes or other issues.
5. Explain How The Law Works: Most clients are not that familiar with the law. By explaining it to them and how it may affect their case, clients can more easily understand how the legal system will view the case and they will be more at ease in following their attorney’s advice.
6. Copy The Client on All Correspondence and Pleadings: Clients have a right to be informed on the progress of their case, and by copying a client with all significant correspondence and pleadings the lawyer does just that.
7. Move The Case Along: Client matters should be actively worked on, even though an immediate resolution of the case may not be possible due to the circumstances of the matter (i.e., awaiting a personal injury client’s recovery or the waiting time to get a trial date). Preparing a case for trial is the best way to achieve a settlement, especially when dealing with an insurance company.
8. Advise The Client in Writing or in Person of All Significant Events: Clients deserve to be kept in the loop on all significant developments and occurrences in their matter, including the formulation of a settlement demand and important events in litigation such as depositions and defense medical examinations. Informed clients are better able to make decisions that will hopefully adhere to their lawyer’s advice on the subject.
9. Don’t Make Promises You Can’t Keep: Lawyers should avoid making representations to prospective clients about obtaining recoveries for certain set dollar amounts or in promising a specific outcome if the matter is litigated. You need to live with any given case for awhile and see how the evidence sorts out before you can be more specific with a client as to a probable outcome. Prospective clients should avoid retaining lawyers who sound like they are promising the moon.
10. Treat the Client the Way You Would Want to be Treated: Lawyers are in the service business and they should treat their clients the way they would want to be treated if they had to retain counsel (yes, lawyers do hire other lawyers to represent them in various matters). People paying for service deserve service.