It may surprise you, but the number one complaint about attorneys across the country is that they don’t return their client phone calls in a timely manner, if at all. A successful attorney-client relationship is based in large part on communication, but it is all too often that attorneys forget that communication is a two-way street. Returning client phone calls is not just a matter of common courtesy, but for attorneys, it’s mandatory.

As attorneys, we’re very busy people, and we just don’t have the time to remain glued to a phone constantly. Let’s call a spade a spade: lawyering is a multi-faceted profession, and we must strive to provide excellent customer service in addition to high-quality legal expertise. Returning client phone calls should be a priority for attorneys—not only to keep your clients happy, but also to keep yourself out of hot water with the state bar. In the long run, returning client phone calls could save you some trouble.

But my clients call me so much…

Last year, The Stubborn Writer came up with a top ten list for clients regarding why their attorneys weren’t returning phone calls. Items on the list range from the attorneys being busy on a more important case or not having any news to report, to the client being an idiot or an ass who doesn’t listen. Lawyerist, too, has written about how attorneys can train clients to exhibit appropriate behavior, and what to do when clients are calling too much on the phone.

The nuance that both legal blogs have failed to point out, however, is that if attorneys avoid returning client phone calls, they may bring the wrath of the state bar down upon themselves. Most states have adopted some form of ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct. Rule 1.4 covers communications during the attorney-client relationship, and many states have adopted this rule verbatim. Rule 1.4 states:

(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.

(emphasis added)

Don’t create bigger problems for yourself

Simply ignoring a “problem client” won’t make the problem go away—in fact, it could make the problem even bigger. As we’ve previously mentioned, attorneys need to think like their clients. If an attorney ignores client phone calls, the client may start to wonder what else the attorney has chosen to ignore, like new developments in the case, or even filing deadlines. Such thoughts could lead to exactly what the attorney has been trying to avoid: more phone calls, or even worse, a complaint with the state bar.

So, is your client calling you multiple times a day and asking you to repeat yourself like a broken record? If that’s the case, although the client may be an “idiot who doesn’t listen” by Stubborn Writer’s standards, attorneys must still provide answers to a client’s reasonable requests. In short, some clients will require more hand-holding than others, some clients will make demands that are almost impossible to meet, and some clients won’t understand their own case no matter how many times they are told.

Returning client phone calls might be a little bit of a pain in the neck, but defending a bar complaint can be a major pain in the ass for attorneys. At the end of the day, we chose to be attorneys, these people are still our clients, and we have to do our best to assist them.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/matthijs/3514892055/)