By: The NBI Team
Tuesday, February 1, 2022
Practice Tips Series: Client Communication
This article is a part of our Practice Tips Series: A Practice Resource for Solo and Small Practice Attorneys
For solo and small firm attorneys, high-quality client communication is key to competing for and keeping clients. With effective client communication, you can meet your compliance requirements and provide a client experience that sets your firm apart from the rest. In this article, we cover the most common lawyer-client communications and tips for improving each type.
Defining Lawyer-Client Communications
Lawyer-client communications are any communications between a lawyer and their client. Communication can be verbal, in writing, or via email, text message, or other electronic means.
Client communication is extremely important to successful representation. Lawyers must have excellent communication skills and a communication plan to keep their clients abreast of any developments in their case.
Attorney-Client PrivilegeLawyer-client communications enjoy attorney-client privilege. Communications between clients and
nonlawyers working for, retained by, or associated with the lawyer also have attorney-client privilege. The same communication best practices should apply to a lawyer’s staff, as they play a central role in the client’s representation.
4 Common Lawyer-Client Communications
Lawyers and clients will communicate at various times for various reasons throughout the client lifecycle. The frequency and topics you discuss will vary depending on the client, the practice area, and the circumstances. Still, certain communications are common, some are recommended, and others are vital.
Below are the four most common lawyer-client communications.
- Client Intake Communications
Client intake communications are essential to any legal practice. Intake communications include marketing communications, intake interviews, and follow-up communications such as engagement letters or letters declining representation.
Client intake communications serve as your client’s first impression of you and your firm. Through intake communications, clients should be informed of at minimum the following:
- whether the attorney will represent the client;
- what the legal issues are;
- potential outcomes and risks; and
- how they will be charged for the attorney’s services
Tips for Intake Communication
- Use current templates throughout the intake process. Intake templates will help ensure accuracy and consistency. They will also improve communication between you, potential clients, and other team members involved in the intake process. Templates might include intake interview templates, contact forms, and checklists for onboarding clients.
- Market your services ethically. Attorneys are allowed to market their services. Don’t be afraid to show potential clients what value your firm will bring to their legal matters. You can do this through marketing materials or by practicing a pitch that portrays your firm positively and accurately.
- Create an atmosphere of trust and professionalism. Prospective clients want to feel safe and in capable hands. To help ensure they do, speak with confidence, stick to an agenda, and keep your office décor professional.
Under American Bar Association (ABA) Rule 1.4, lawyers must keep their clients reasonably informed about the status of their legal matter.
Beyond Rule 1.4, communicating updates to clients is an opportunity to build trust and foster goodwill. Whether you speak to clients face-to-face or simply make a phone call, be sure to keep clients updated as often as possible.
Tips for Keeping Your Clients Informed:
- Automate alerts to provide regular updates. Automated calendar alerts will allow you to continue your practice without having to remember when to call clients. This is particularly helpful for long-term clients, or clients with slow-moving legal matters.
- Create templates for regular lawyer-client communications. Create letter and email templates for common or repetitive communications. To avoid forgetting to swap out a name, make sure your template placeholders remain bracketed and highlighted.
- Schedule direct communication with clients whenever possible. Clients expect to speak directly to their attorneys when requesting updates or additional legal advice. However, this is not always possible. To improve the client experience, schedule direct communications with your clients ahead of time.
Attorneys who would like to end or withdraw from representation must do so in compliance with their ethical responsibilities. When ending an attorney-client relationship, the following ABA rules are particularly important:
Under ABA Rule 1.16, attorneys must “take steps to the extent reasonably practicable to protect a client's interests” when terminating the relationship. This includes:
- giving the client reasonable notice
- allowing time for the client to find counsel
- transferring all documents and property to the client
- providing refunds where applicable
An attorney can still keep papers relating to the client to the extent permitted by other laws.
Tips for Letters to End the Attorney-Client Relationship
- Communicate directly and in writing. Communicate the end of the attorney-client relationship directly with the client and also in writing. In both communications, be sure to explain the steps you took to protect the client’s interest.
- Inform the client of any statutes of limitation. If you’re ending representation before the legal matter has been resolved, inform the client of any applicable statutes of limitation.
- Apply customer service best practices. Customer service best practices provide you an opportunity to build the firm’s reputation and obtain feedback from clients.
Although a law practice is a very unique business with unique payment structures, firms still need to protect their financial interests. As with any other business relationship, to protect their interests, all attorneys must seek payment from clients.
Effective communication can’t do it all, but it will help set expectations for payment. Communication and writing will also create a record in case you need to take further action to collect payment.
Tips for Payment and Collection Communications
- Set expectations ahead of time. Clients should know exactly how they will be charged for legal services. Remember to not only explain your fees in the engagement letter but also in person.
- Send payment reminders before payment deadlines. Send reminders to clients before payment is due. If you’ve received a retainer, be sure to send regular invoices showing how much of the retainer has been used. Clients often won’t pay attention to or realize how much of their retainer they’re using.
Software for Lawyer-Client Communication
Lawyer-client communication is key to a successful client experience. If you need extra help managing your law firm’s communications, consider investing in case management or project management software.
Case management software has communication tools that can help you manage templates and automate communications across the entire client lifecycle. Great software will automate your communications and protect your bottom line. It will also help your clients feel positive about their experience with your firm.
NBI offers a variety of CLE courses designed to help attorneys succeed in their everyday practice. Whether you're looking for better client relations and communication or are wrestling with the demands of running a small law firm, check out our law practice management catalog to start learning today!