Being charged with a crime can be one of the scariest experiences of anyone’s life. I’ve been a criminal lawyer practicing in Philadelphia for a long time. From this experience, I’ve learned a very important lesson: communicating effectively with clients is the key to their satisfaction. People who are charged with a crime need a criminal lawyer who effectively communicates with them. After all, they’re going through a lot of emotional turmoil.
Effective communication allows the client to effectively participate in the lawyer’s representation and obviates the need for the client to constantly reach out to the lawyer for reasonable requests for information. If a lawyer is constantly bogged down by phone calls from current clients, that lawyer should examine his or her practice to see if the clients are calling because they do not have the information they need about their cases. Here are some tips for criminal lawyers to make their clients happy:
1. Keep clients’ phone numbers handy and call them whenever something happens in their case. Clients appreciate this, and it is a proactive approach to lawyer-client communications. If you make a habit of this, you’ll see that the total length of phone conversations drops considerably because you’ve kept the client informed.
2. Return all phone calls within 24 hours. When clients have a question, they want a quick response. And, they deserve a quick response. No client wants to think you’re too busy working on other clients’ cases that you can’t return their call.
3. Write letters to clients. Writing a simple letter to a client can take less then five minutes, and the client will feel like they’re getting something for the fee they’ve paid.
4. Copy clients on written communication with opposing counsel or the court. Make it simple – you don’t have to write a cover letter for the copied letter you’re sending. Copying a client is an easy way for you to keep them informed.
Make these practices a habit, and you’ll see that it actually saves you time, makes clients happy, and will be better for your practice in the long run.
Communicating information to a client about his or her matter is not just something that lawyers should do. It’s also required by law. For example, the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.4, sets forth the minimal standard for a lawyer’s communication with a client. It reads:
Rule 1.4 Communication
(a) A lawyer shall:
(1) promptly inform the client of any decision or circumstance with respect to which the client’s informed consent, as defined in Rule 1.0(e), is required by these Rules;
(2) reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client’s objectives are to be accomplished;
(3) keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter;
(4) promptly comply with reasonable requests for information; and
(5) consult with the client about any relevant limitation on the lawyer’s conduct when the lawyer knows that the client expects assistance not permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.
(b) A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.
(c) A lawyer in private practice shall inform a new client in writing if the lawyer does not have professional liability insurance of at least $100,000 per occurrence and $300,000 in the aggregate per year, subject to commercially reasonable deductibles, retention or co-insurance, and shall inform existing clients in writing at any time the lawyer’s professional liability insurance drops below either of those amounts or the lawyer’s professional liability insurance is terminated. A lawyer shall maintain a record of these disclosures for six years after the termination of the representation of a client.
Criminal lawyers, try these simple tricks, follow the law, and feel free to let me know how they work for you in your practice!