The Importance of Communication in the Attorney-Client Relationship
What type of relationship do a lawyer and a client have? An attorney-client relationship establishes an attorney’s fiduciary duty to their client, which essentially means that the attorney must, by law, act in the best interests of their clients.
If this is the case, why does it seem like some lawyers don’t have the best interests of their clients in mind? This often boils down to poor communication. There’s nothing that makes someone feel less taken care of than being ignored.
In this article, the lawyers who sue lawyers from Sears Crawford will discuss communication within the attorney-client relationship, attorney-client privilege, and the difference between poor communication and legal malpractice.
If you or a loved one has had a previous lawyer screw up your case and cause you financial harm, call Ross Sears at Sears Crawford at (713) 223-3333 today.
What is the definition of an attorney-client relationship?
While “attorney-client relationship” is not a technical term, both “attorney-client privilege” and “fiduciary duty” are, so we can start by defining those terms.
What exactly is a lawyer’s fiduciary duty? In the simplest terms, a lawyer’s fiduciary duty to their clients is their duty to act in their client’s best interests all of the time. This means that every single decision must be made with the client in mind. Whether a lawyer is caught overbilling a client or is found to have a conflict of interest, any form of self-dealing is a breach of their fiduciary duty.
Attorney-client privilege is established in Texas Rule of Evidence 503. It protects confidential information learned by an attorney during the process of representing a client. Its purpose is to ensure that a client and attorney may freely communicate with one another, because if a client cannot communicate with their attorney, an attorney cannot be said to be truly informed, and can therefore not provide proper legal representation.
When does attorney-client privilege not apply?
Only communication for the explicit purpose of helping a lawyer provide legal representation is privileged. This means that not ALL information communicated between a client and an attorney is necessarily privileged.
Information is also only privileged if it is communicated to the lawyer or someone operating within the office of the lawyer. If you take a meeting with your lawyer and a legal assistant from their firm, you are likely still operating under this attorney-client privilege, but if you meet with your lawyer and their cousin, you cannot expect the same.
If you’re curious about whether or not what you’re telling your lawyer is privileged or not, just ask them.
Rules for communication in the attorney-client relationship
The American Bar Association has something to say about communication in the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which we will summarize below.
- Reasonable communication between the lawyer and the client is necessary for the client effectively to participate in the representation.
- A lawyer must promptly consult with and secure the client’s consent prior to taking action unless prior discussions with the client have resolved what action the client wants the lawyer to take.
- A lawyer must reasonably consult with the client about the means to be used to accomplish the client’s objectives.
- A lawyer must keep the client reasonably informed about the status of matters, such as significant developments affecting the timing or the substance of the representation.
- When a client makes a reasonable request for information, a lawyer must either promptly comply with the request, or if a prompt response is not feasible, the lawyer must acknowledge receipt of the request and advise the client when a response may be expected.
If your attorney isn’t communicating with you, you do have cause to be alarmed. Not only do clients rely on communication from their attorneys to stay abreast of what’s going on with their cases, but attorneys rely on effective communication from clients in order to successfully resolve those same cases! That being said, there are some legitimate reasons why your attorney might be slow to respond, which we have detailed below.
Reasons your attorney might not be communicating with you
There are a few reasons why an attorney might be slow to respond. Some of the more common reasons include:
- There is really nothing to report about your case. While important deadlines do arise and decisions have to be made, there are also long periods of time during lawsuits in which everyone has to just wait for updates.
- Your attorney has a lot going on. They may have another client whose case is at a critical juncture and is giving that case the time and attention that it truly needs.
- They could be dealing with personal issues or be out of the office. These things, however, should be communicated to you by someone in their office if they apply.
- They have bad news that they don’t want to tell you. Again, even the worst news needs to be communicated to you as the client.
Because communication is the cornerstone of a good attorney-client relationship, a lack of communication will understandably make clients nervous, angry, and even mistrustful. There are some legitimate reasons for not getting back to you on time, but if your attorney’s poor communication screws up your case, you need to contact an experienced attorney malpractice lawyer because you may be able to sue them for damages.
What to do if your lawyer isn’t communicating with you
Wondering what to do if your lawyer is not helping you? We have a checklist just for the occasion:
- Speak with your attorney. Before you escalate things, make sure to attempt to have an honest conversation about your experiences with your attorney.
- Get a second opinion from another attorney, preferably an experienced legal malpractice attorney.
- Sue them for legal malpractice. If that second opinion is that your attorney committed legal malpractice, you may have grounds for a lawsuit against your current attorney.
You have a right to competent legal representation. If your attorney didn’t communicate with you and screwed up your case, you might also have a right to pursue damages against your former attorney for legal malpractice.
Continue reading: What is legal malpractice?
The attorney-client relationship is not only sacred, it’s legally binding. Sears Crawford is here to help uphold that standard.
Effective communication is not only the lifeblood of the attorney-client relationship, it is an essential part of any good attorney’s ability to serve their clients. If your attorney is not communicating with you, always try to discuss your concerns with them first — but if they’ve already screwed up your case, you might be able to sue them for legal malpractice.
You deserve to have an attorney that will put your attorney-client relationship first, always.
Ross Sears II has been holding lawyers accountable in Houston for more than 30 years. If you or a loved one has been harmed by your previous lawyer’s legal malpractice, call Ross Sears at Sears Crawford at (713) 223-3333 or contact him online today for representation.
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