The Basics of Attorney-Client Communication
Communication is an important skill, regardless of position, relationship, or career, but for an attorney, proper communication is also a legal duty.
Attorneys Have a Duty to Communicate Properly with Clients.
Competent representation includes a responsibility to communicate with clients. The attorney-client relationship is a fiduciary relationship, which gives the client a legal right to place confidence in the attorney with regard to the client’s legal matters. The attorney’s superior knowledge and training in legal matters creates a responsibility to the client, and also a duty to communicate relevant information to the client.
Which information is “relevant” depends on the client’s issues, needs, and requests. Generally speaking, an attorney should keep clients informed about the ongoing status of the representation, provide regular status updates, and provide additional information when the client makes a request. However, attorneys should not wait for the client to request information before providing status updates when situations change or progress is made on the client’s case.
The attorney’s duty of communication includes:
1. Keeping the client reasonably informed of significant developments in the client’s case or other legal matters the attorney is handling on the client’s behalf. The attorney must take the initiative, and inform the client of significant developments even if the client has not requested updates.
2. Disclosing and explaining all relevant facts necessary for the client to make intelligent, informed decisions about the client’s case or legal issues.
3. Providing the client with copies of significant documents.
4. Complying with reasonable client requests for information (and copies of documents) promptly and thoroughly.
5. Responding to clients’ questions and status inquiries promptly.
The specific nature of communications, and what they must include, will change based on a client’s circumstances. However, these general guidelines establish the structure for proper attorney-client communication.
The Duty to Communicate Extends to People Who Believe They Are Clients, as Well as to Actual Clients.
The attorney has a duty to communicate with people who believe they are clients—but the attorney can discharge and fulfill this duty by advising these people that they are not the attorney’s clients clients. To be safe, an attorney should always make this clear in writing, either by email or in a letter.