Client communication is one of the most essential duties throughout a lawyer’s professional career. According to the New Jersey Rules of Professional Conduct, “a lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information.” RPC 1.4(b). Not only is regular communication with the client mandatory, but it is also just good practice. Client expectations must be clear from the very first contact on a prospective matter. It is incumbent on the lawyer to understand those expectations, address the likelihood that those expectations will be met, and follow up regularly regarding goals and any issues that will impact the ultimate outcome of the case.
Failing in clear communication will invariably lead to frustration on the part of both attorney and client. For that reason, it is essential for the client to understand at the outset each party’s role. The attorney will be the client’s advocate, moving their case through the legal process. The client will be the ultimate decision maker, as it is after all, their case. The client’s understanding of what the attorney is doing to achieve the desired end result will make for a better legal relationship.
After an attorney has been retained, it is important they maintain regular communication throughout the attorney – client relationship. Periodic reporting, even in the absence of a requirement to do so, should be considered standard practice, in order to keep the client abreast of the happenings in the case. In the absence of any substantive occurrence in a case during a given period of time, it may be more convenient (and obviously more personal) to call the client and discuss why little has happened and what the expectations are going forward. Regular client contact, of course, remains mandatory per the RPCs, and failing to disclose the status of a matter to a client such that they can make an informed decision about the case has been cited as rationale for disbarment. See generally In re Zeitler, 182 N.J. 389 (2005).
As the case reaches its conclusion, it is once again very important for the client to understand all of their rights and responsibilities with respect to the resolution of his or her claim. Absent a decision at the time of trial by a jury, any settlement naturally involves parties giving up rights and agreeing to certain terms. It is critical that the client understands the rights released and terms as they will affect the client going forward.
In short, it has almost never been my experience that a client tells me “you contact me too frequently,” and I make it a point to keep them informed at all turns. Clients want to know that their case is important. For that reason, frequent client communication should be the standard practice.