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Communication with clients is one of the most important aspects of being an attorney. It is also an area that causes significant ethical issues when attorneys fail to do so properly. Under RPC 1.4, an attorney in Pennsylvania must keep clients regularly informed and updated on their case. This ensures that clients not only understand what to expect throughout the legal process but also so that they can make informed decisions about their cases. It also assists them in managing their expectations and their fears. Attorneys often forget how overwhelming the legal process can be for a client, especially those who are emotionally connected to their cases.
Clients should not be left to wonder what is happening in their case. It is important for an attorney to discuss with clients various avenues that their cases could take, especially as there are no guarantees for any outcome. It is not enough to simply state this in a fee agreement. It is something that should be discussed often throughout the course of representation. An attorney should not only regularly speak to their clients but should also encourage clients to contact them for any and all concerns.
Every attorney has been faced with a client that demands updates on a daily basis or a client that calls and e-mails multiple times per day. Conversely, every attorney has clients that are difficult to contact, despite multiple phone calls and e-mails. However, it is still an attorney’s responsibility to ensure that they are properly communicating with the client. The prudent attorney needs to ensure that there is ample evidence of communication with all clients, even if they are difficult. This should include written communication and documentation of telephone calls to clients. It is important to remember that clients are only contacting an attorney because they are facing a legal issue. This stress for the client can cause them to be forgetful or need constant reassurances. It is an attorney’s ethical obligation is ensure that a client has a realistic understanding of what to expect, how long the legal process may take and that they are feeling reassured, as much as possible.
Failure to properly explain things to a client is one of the biggest ethical issues that are brought against attorneys. Clients often report attorneys to the Disciplinary Board for failing to respond to them. Usually, clients complain to the Disciplinary Board after months of leaving voicemails and/or sending e-mails with no responses from an attorney. It has to be understood that lack of communication from an attorney is extremely stressful for clients. It is never appropriate to ignore a client. In order to be ethically compliant with RPC 1.4 in Pennsylvania, attorneys must make an effort to communicate with their clients on a regular basis.