Good Communications Can Keep You From Malpractice Claims

With regards to client communication, the American Bar Association (ABA) model rules of professional conduct say that lawyers need to:

  • Inform clients of decisions and circumstances related to their case
  • Consult with clients about how they will accomplish their legal goals
  • Respond to client requests for information

In a world that now offers us seemingly endless ways to communicate with one another, it is surprising that the majority of legal malpractice claims are related to administrative functions, and particularly, client communication. A Texas Lawyer article offers insight on how “Good client communications can be the key factor in bringing a quick end to a malpractice claim or avoiding one altogether,” as it becomes increasingly more important for attorneys to recognize the role strong and consistent communication can play in both protecting their practice and ensuring client satisfaction.

We’ve previously shared that there is no “formula” for how often lawyers should communicate with clients, and the only way to measure success is to ensure that you are meeting or exceeding your client’s expectations. There is also no set standard or requirement set by the rules of professional conduct.  A State Bar of Wisconsin article advises attorneys to “…tell your client what is happening with regard to your representation and respond promptly to your client when asked for information or an update. This often is harder to do than it sounds but communicating with the client about the representation and responding to client inquiries are key aspects of the attorney-client relationship and are the best way to create a bond of trust between the lawyer and the client.”

The attorney-client relationship and maintaining a client’s trust is invaluable – knowing that your client knows what you are doing on their behalf and feels as though you are not only responsive but proactively providing information on their matter makes them feel valued and well represented. Happy clients are not only return clients but can also be a law firm’s best publicists and ambassadors.

Effective communication with clients means that lawyers need to do more than just responsively answer calls from clients. An ABA Journal article on ethics traps advises attorneys to initiate communication in particular in the following instances:

“(1) When decisions require client consent about the objectives of the representation, such as the decision to settle or appeal. (2) When seeking any waiver of a client fiduciary obligation, especially confidentiality and conflicts of interest. (3) When decisions require client consent about the means to be used to accomplish client objectives, such as whether to litigate, arbitrate or mediate a matter; or whether to stipulate to a set of facts. (4) When clients should be updated on the status of a matter, especially information about developments in the representation itself, such as a serious illness of the lawyer or merger with another firm. (5) When the client requests information. (6) When the client expects assistance the lawyer cannot provide, such as counsel in committing crimes.”

While client satisfaction is paramount, and reason enough for attorneys to make sure they are communicating consistently and clearly, avoiding ethics complaints and malpractice claims are another big motivator.