Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Keeping in Touch with Your Lawyer

In almost every attorney-client relationship, the two parties need to have an understanding about how they will communicate with each other. Most attorneys have preferred means of communication, such as email, voice mail, scheduled phone conferences, etc. Clients usually have some systems that they prefer or may be more comfortable with. It's a good idea to have a discussion at the beginning of the attorney-client relationship as to how the parties will exchange information. Here are some approaches to consider and discuss. This is intended to be like a checklist, rather than some cutting-edge new information. The point is that the attorney and client need to start off with a clear idea about how much communication is needed or wanted and which method or methods would work best for the parties in this case. Here are some possibilities.
  • Email. It's fast, cheap and it can be saved. Most people are comfortable with it, but some are not. It's a great way to send documents as well.
  • Land Line Telephone. These seem to be disappearing, but for people who still have them, they are a convenient and dependable way to talk or leave a message (assuming there's an answer machine or voice mail).
  • Cell Phone. It seems like almost everyone has one, but some people don't, or can't, have them turned on all the time. There are also sometimes problems with reception or dropped calls. I will not answer my cell phone (and often don't have it turned on) when I am at a meeting, when I'm at court, when I am with another client or if I am on the phone with someone else. (I also don't interrupt meals for phone calls.) Cell phones can be very convenient and for many people, they are the primary means of contact.
  • Texting. While not everyone texts, more and more are doing it and it can be a quick and efficient means of communicating. It doesn't take a lot of expensive training, either. If the adults don't know how to text, almost any kid can teach them how to.
  • Voice Mail at an Office. Almost any attorney's office will have a voice mail system that works well. Sometimes it is much easier to leave a long message on the voice mail than it is to write or use other methods. The key is to leave a detailed message and not just say, "I returned your call" or "Call me". Ask a question or leave information.
  • Rely on Office Staff. There are many times when an attorney is tied up in court, is in a meeting or is just behind closed doors giving full attention to working on a project and can't be interrupted. Sometimes a client has a message which doesn't require talking directly to the attorney. In those situations, having the client talk directly with the staff in the office is the most efficient and effective means of communication. There are many questions that an experienced staff member can answer quickly for the client. Having a good relationship between the staff and a client makes communication easier for everyone.
  • Snail Mail. Most attorneys still rely on regular U.S. Mail to send notices and copies of documents. More and more, attorneys use email, but almost everyone uses regular mail for some things. Make sure your attorney has a good postal address for you. Bonus Tip: If you get a letter, please be sure you open it and deal with whatever it discusses.
  • Third Parties for Messages. I like to get the the name, address and phone number of a (preferably local) person who can always get a message to you. It's a low-tech backup system for me in case I'm not aware when your address, phone number, email, etc. have changed. (It happens.)

The list here is intended to help you think about the best way to keep in touch with your attorney. If your fee arrangement involves hourly charges by the attorney, you can probably save money by talking with the staff, instead of the attorney, or by using some of the other processes. However, there are times when the attorney and client just need to talk, so use whatever method works to set that up. One way to do that is to make a telephone appointment to speak at a specific date and time. If you have trouble getting in touch with the attorney, work with the staff to arrange the call. With as many options as there are, you should be able to find an approach that is workable for you and your attorney.

No comments: