When (and What) Must a Lawyer Communicate With Clients?
WHAT IS INCLUDED IN THE LAWYER’S DUTY OF COMMUNICATION?
The lawyer’s duty to his or her clients includes an obligation to engage in “adequate communication.”
People interpret communication differently, but the lawyer’s duty of adequate communication includes (at a minimum) the following:
1. Keeping the client reasonably informed about significant developments in the client’s case or issue;
2. Providing the client with sufficient information to allow the client to make reasonably informed decisions about the representation and the underlying matter or issue.
3. Responding promptly to the client’s reasonable requests for information, status updates, and/or copies of significant documents; and
4. Providing the client with copies of documents relevant to the client’s case or issue within a reasonable time.
TO WHOM DOES THE LAWYER OWE THIS DUTY?
The duty to communicate applies not only to actual clients but also to people who believe they are the attorney’s clients.
This is one reason attorneys are encouraged to use engagement letters, retainer agreements, and other written forms of communication to establish an attorney-client relationship, to resign in writing when necessary, and to clearly indicate in writing when an individual is not a client.
Note: where appropriate, the lawyer’s duty to communicate with non-clients can be satisfied by a communication stating that the individual is not the lawyer’s client.
WHAT CONSTITUTES A “SIGNIFICANT DEVELOPMENT” IN A CASE OR ISSUE?
The test for significance triggering a duty to communicate is facts and circumstances-based, which means it varies depending on the nature of the representation and the client’s individual needs. Generally speaking, a lawyer should inform the client about the status of the client’s case or issue, and update the client when a situation changes or when the lawyer becomes aware of new material facts or circumstances impacting the case or issue.
Important dates, like court dates and the deadlines contained in contracts or other documents, are often “significant” and worthy of mention to the client. However, the attorney need not update the client about every piece of information, fact, or detail the lawyer uncovers while researching the client’s case or issue. While it’s impossible to determine in advance when a lawyer must (or need not) contact or update the client, changes which could impact the outcome of the client’s case or which require the client to make decisions are certainly the type the attorney should convey to the client promptly.
A lawyer’s failure to adequately communicate with clients may constitute an actionable breach of the lawyer’s duty, and may subject the lawyer to liability for malpractice. If you believe your lawyer failed to properly communicate, or keep you informed of critical developments in your case or legal issue, seek an evaluation of your legal rights without delay.
Disclaimer: Legal claims against lawyers (and non-lawyer defendants) are a complicated topic. Articles like this touch only on basic issues. If you believe you have a claim against an attorney who failed to provide you with competent representation, consult an experienced malpractice lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your possible rights and claims. THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE. Your rights and experiences may vary.
Never use an article like this one (or any other online or printed source) to evaluate your legal claims. Always speak with an experienced lawyer promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, possible damages, and options. You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel.