The Importance of Effective Communication continued

You must be able to identify difficult clients at an early stage and have a plan for dealing with them. Some of the more practical suggestions relate to billing practices, such as prompt, regular billing. Don't let overdue bills slide. Subject to the rules regarding withdrawing services, if required, suspend further work on files when fees are not being paid. Be certain to explain what is happening to the client, and why, and document these communications in writing to the client.  Do not just keep a record of the communication in your own file.

Poor communication is a recurring theme in complaints to the Complainant's Review Committee. Failing to confirm communications in writing often results in miscommunication, a deterioration of the lawyer-client relationship, and ultimately complaints to the Law Society. 1 The recent trend in using email as a means of communication with its built in expectations for shortened response times may tax your resources if not managed carefully. Difficult clients can either be overly demanding with persistent communications, or fail to respond to your communications to them leaving you always acting at the last moment.  Including a paragraph in the retainer agreement outlining a communication protocol and discussing things such as email, phone calls, how reporting is going to be done and what is reasonable in terms of response times, may go a long way in addressing client expectations.2 . Here’s a sample:

Dealing With Each Other

  1. Telephone Calls, Emails & Letters

I will try to return your phone messages or respond to your emails or letters as quickly as possible, but I will not always be able to do so on the same day that you sent them. I am primarily a [courtroom lawyer] OR [transaction lawyer] and am [often in court] OR [attending closings]. When representing a client [in court] OR [in a transaction], I devote my time during that period to that client and have only a limited ability to return other clients’ phone messages or reply to their emails or letters. When it is your turn to go to court or close your transaction I will be devoting my time to you and your case.

I remind you that I will bill you for all telephone calls, emails and meetings, including any time I may need to prepare for such conversations or review documentation (including emails) before or after our discussions. In order to receive the most value for the services you pay for, I will try to be as efficient as possible. In turn I hope you will limit our conversations in time and subject matter to those topics necessary to resolve your legal problems.

If you have any questions or need to provide me with additional information, I suggest that you write to me or, if I am not available, please speak to my legal assistant, *, who may be able to assist you or can pass on a detailed message to me.