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Chapter 6: Lawyers and Communication:
Whether you’re being sued, dealing with a contractual dispute or just getting your personal affairs in order, dealing with a lawyer can be stressful. That’s why communication is so important.
The Importance of Open Communication
Openness and communication is vital between an attorney and client. After all, how can your lawyer effectively represent you if he or she is not privy to all the details surrounding the matter at hand? Luckily, your attorney is not allowed to discuss your personal affairs, including divulging the contents of any communication you share, with any party. This protected speech is called the attorney-client privilege. But a lawyer’s communication duties don’t stop there: in addition to respecting your privacy as to communications, a lawyer is bound to openness with their client. This means that a lawyer must clarify their fee structure and collection practices, the intended scope of their duties, and divulge any conflict of interest before you agree to representation. In short, your lawyer must communicate.
Attorney’s Duty to Communicate
What are your lawyer’s actual obligations as to communication? First, your lawyer must provide you with periodic reports. Your lawyer must also consult with you before making major decisions on your behalf. You should ask any prospective lawyer about his or her communication practices. How often can you expect a progress report? Will you be contacted via e-mail, letter or telephone?
A lawyer is also expected to divulge negative information, including letting you know about mistakes or adverse events. If you aren’t notified of a lawyer’s error or intention, especially in a material or major matter, you could have grounds to sue for malpractice.
Compatible Communication Styles
While your lawyer is expected to advise and communicate with you, it’s unreasonable to expect your attorney to be your best friend. Your lawyer certainly understands the pressures of being involved in legal action. However, they also have a roster of clients with whom to deal and in-office pressure related to the court timetable and workload. Before signing with a lawyer, you should find out more about their communication style. Is your attorney-to-be a “hands-off” type or more outgoing? Can you expect business advice from your lawyer or would your attorney prefer to hold your non-legal dealings at arm’s-length?
With a bit of prep work and an open attitude, open communication between an attorney and client is easy.