Posted on Monday, March 8th, 2021 at 3:07 pm
Poor communication is the oldest and most common complaint about attorneys. And unfortunately, it’s often true. Many lawyers treat their firms like a part time job rather than a full time business. This can be very frustrating to clients, both new and old. A court case is designed to be a slow process that prioritizes careful information gathering over quick solutions. Insurance claims are the same way. The long timeline can leave many clients feeling adrift, without a clear sense of where the case is going and when it might get there. If your attorney doesn’t have the common courtesy to return phone calls and emails, it gets frustrating fast.
So why doesn’t the lawyer answer the phone when you call?
There can be some good reasons. First, lawyers have many clients, just like doctors have many patients. That’s not bad for you, because a lawyer who has shepherded many others through the process will know how to handle any curveballs thrown at your case. The last thing you want to do is hire an attorney who only touches your type of case once each year. But the downside of an attorney having many clients is that your attorney may not be able to pick up the phone right when you call. Instead, the attorney might be in court, in a deposition, or calling another client. And that’s ok; it’s what the attorney is supposed to do.
Second, an attorney being unavailable for a call might be an example of good customer service rather than bad. At Lawrence & Associates, every new client sits down with their attorney for around an hour and discusses the issues in the client’s case, likely outcomes, and things the client can do to help the case move forward efficiently. That’s great customer service – many law firms never set up a meeting between client and attorney before starting the case, and some don’t let you meet with the attorney in person until the case is ready for settlement. But the flip side of that meeting is that every Lawrence & Associates attorney is unavailable to answer calls while the attorney is in these one hour consultations. We think – and most clients agree – that its better for everyone to get comfortable with each other at the beginning, even if it means some callers have to leave a message.
Third, remember that lawyers and paralegals work in a team just like doctors and nurses do. Some clients call to speak to their attorney and speak to the paralegal working on their case instead. As long as the paralegal is able to answer the client’s questions, that’s ok! Just like calling a doctor’s office generally results in you speaking with a nurse, many attorney office calls result in you speaking with a paralegal. Lawrence & Associates’ paralegals are well trained and have worked here for years. Many paralegals have degrees or certifications to help them do their job. Sometimes, a paralegal might be even better at explaining things than the attorney is. If you call in and get to talk to the paralegal, don’t feel slighted. As long as you’re getting your question answered, you’re accomplishing what you set out to do.
But the Attorney Never Responds to Me. When is Enough Enough?
There are good reasons an attorney might not be able to take your call right away, but if your legal team isn’t responding to you at all that is unacceptable. Lawrence & Associates requires the legal team to respond to client calls and emails within 48 hours (except for weekends and holidays). We set the limit at 48 hours because sometimes attorneys are in trial or in a series of depositions that makes 24 hours impossible. If clients don’t get a response within 48 hours, they can escalate the issue to their attorney’s supervisor. The supervisor will get the phone number or email the client used and check the firm’s phone and email records to make sure we received the call and email and didn’t return it. In rare cases where there is not some reasonable issue (e.g. we sent a reply email but it bounced back, or we called but couldn’t leave a voicemail because the mailbox was full), the attorney or paralegal can be disciplined.
Not all firms have such a strict communication requirement, so here are some tips to maximize the chance you resolve the issue without needing to find a new attorney:
- Make sure you try phone and email. Some people are good about returning calls but not emails, or vice versa. And sometimes attorneys can respond to an email right away even when they can’t take a call. For example, sometimes attorneys are waiting for their case to be called by the judge, but court is running late and the judge is dealing with other attorneys. Your attorney may have wi-fi access and be able to respond to your email while he or she is waiting.
- Make sure you try the paralegal too. I can’t stress enough that paralegals are legal professionals and have access to all the information the attorney has access to. They are hired to help, so give them a chance to help you!
- If you start to feel frustrated, ask to schedule an appointment with the attorney. You might have to wait a week to get one, but lawyers are chained to their calendars. If they have time carved out for you, the attorney will be there. If the attorney won’t schedule an appointment with you, it is a sign that something is seriously wrong.
- Keep a journal of the number of times you called or emailed with no response, include the phone number and email address you used. Consider sending the attorney a letter with this list and demanding better service. The longer the list, the more embarrassed the attorney ought to be.
- Ask to escalate. For larger law firms, and for firms that are run like a business, there ought to be a corporate hierarchy. That means your attorney may have a boss. Just like you’d ask to speak to a store manager, ask to speak to your attorney’s supervisor.
If none of these tips work, and if you’re getting absolutely no feedback from your legal team, you should look for a new attorney to represent you. Clients are allowed to fire attorneys at will, and firing an attorney for a failure to communicate is considered a “for-cause” firing that prevents the non-communicative attorney from recovering a fee in contingency cases. This helps you find a new attorney, who won’t be as concerned about taking the case but not being able to recover a fee. When you sit for a consultation with the new firm, be sure to ask them what their policy is on returning client calls and emails before you sign a new contract. If they don’t have one, move on.
If you have any other questions about what you should expect in a personal injury, workers’ compensation, bankruptcy, or social security claim, give us a call! We offer free consultations and we always make your case our cause. We look forward to speaking with you.