TOP TEN RULES FOR TREATING CLIENTS:
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.
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.
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
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
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
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.