Fostering a good attorney-client relationship
Just as with any relationship, a reliable and trusting one between an attorney and a client is essential. It is imperative to put effort and time into establishing and further maintaining the attorney-client relationship.
Initially, a client needs to select the right attorney. No attorney practices nor is knowledgeable about all areas of law. Therefore, the search should be focused on finding an attorney who regularly practices in the area of law that is at issue. The internet, a phone book, or the State Bar can provide a list of initial candidates. Asking family and friends or even reaching out to the community for recommendations is also a good idea. It is wise to speak with a selected attorney about their experience with the specific work that needs to be performed. The initial consultation can afford both parties the opportunity to get to know one another and to decide whether the attorney and client will work well together.
Next, both parties must set mutual expectations. It is crucial that the client’s expectations and goals are clearly communicated to the attorney. In return, the client should expect to learn the attorney’s proposed course of action and the timeframe for achieving the client’s goals. The legal analysis offered to the client should be realistic and fact-based. Simply telling the client what he or she wants to hear would not benefit anyone in the long run. The attorney should also explain the cost of the services offered, including the method of billing, such as a flat fee or an hourly fee, as well as the payment terms and the need for any retainer. A client should pay the attorney’s bills timely. It is understandable that the attorney will choose to work on the case for a client who pays the bill on time.
Additionally, the client and attorney should agree on the mutually preferred method of communication, such as phone calls, emails, or letters, and the frequency of communication and updates. Most attorneys charge for communication with clients. Therefore, being concise and prepared with the necessary information and documents during the appointment with one’s attorney can help to reduce unnecessary legal fees. Furthermore, unnecessary, frequent follow-ups may result in an unreasonably higher bill, especially during periods when there are no new developments to report on. It is worth remembering that the attorneys have a duty to communicate with the clients and to relay important information to the clients in a timely manner. With the right attorney, there is no need for costly follow-ups—one can trust that the attorney will reach out to the client as needed.
Lastly, it is important to understand an attorney’s role in a relationship with a client. An attorney has a duty to analyze the case, describe available strategies to the client, and advise the client of legal risks and benefits; but, ultimately, the client makes the informed decision. In today’s world, we attempt to educate ourselves online and form our own legal opinions. However, frequently ignoring the attorney’s advice may not only result in an unfavorable outcome, but also undermines the purpose of hiring a professional to assist and advise.
A trustworthy relationship between a client and an attorney from commencement to conclusion is essential to the successful representation and to achieving the client’s goals. To create and maintain a productive attorney-client relationship, both parties need to foster mutual trust and respect resulting from honest and regular communication as well as clarity of goals and achievable results.
Natalia Vander Laan is a Minden attorney and owner of Vander Laan Law Firm