I may know why your lawyer is not calling you back: poor communication practices. Working in, around, and writing about the legal industry, I learned more about motivation and perception in attorney-client relationships. Breakdowns in communication lead to misunderstandings. Upset clients and attorneys both make matters worse when they act on emotion instead of logic. I called Oak Brook family law attorney, Lee Marinaccio, who offered his comments on how law firms should approach communication. Firms should follow Botti Marinaccio Ltd.’s lead in respecting and engaging families going through divorce and family law matters.
“At Botti Marinaccio, Ltd., we make a concerted effort to maintain regular and continuous communications with our clients, with good and bad news. Divorce is unnerving and clients question whether you have their best interests in mind when left in the dark. Constant communications helps us engage our clients in the divorce process and allows our clients to take a proactive role in their case. Because we focus on communication to such an extent, when it is time to make a decision, there are fewer surprises, and our clients are confident that we advance their best interests.” Lee Marinaccio, Botti Marinaccio, Ltd.[i]
Too often, however, things do not go as planned. Some solo practitioners really suffer with time and resource constraints. Here are a few of my personal observations of attorney-client communication breakdowns:
Avoidable Breakdowns – the unfortunate top 10 list:
10. Your lawyer is putting out bigger fires. Family law cases are sensitive and dynamic, especially those involving child custody. Things can change very quickly and often the lawyers are working to protect the best interests of the child(ren) involved. If yours is a question that can wait, it might, unfortunately.
9. Your lawyer is on trial. Have you ever prepared for trial or participated in one? The amount of things a lawyer needs to focus on during a trial is incredible. Evidence, strategy, opponents, witnesses, and somehow, everything else that happens during the day. If you know your lawyer is on trial, be patient.
8. Your phone calls are too emotional. Divorce cases are rough on everyone and it can be especially trying on your attorneys and their staff. If you keep a level head and control yourself when talking to your lawyer, you will get a better response. I have heard too many clients screaming into the phone – no good.
7. The delegated call returner dropped the ball. Law firm staff and associates make mistakes. Sometimes people sweep mistakes under the rug, and the lawyer who delegated the work might not be aware of your calls. This is a communication problem an irritated client should document and tactfully express to their lawyer.
6. Your lawyer’s phone is off. I have known struggling solo practitioners who have experienced technical difficulties with technology. Imagine the embarrassment and stress this can cause a professional. Who knows what other problems are happening. Be patient and send an e-mail that you called and identify the best time and format to receive a return communication.
5. Your lawyer has yet to respond to correspondence in your matter. Communications not responded to have a way of piling up. Your call might be in line to be returned but could be delayed by another communication, often involving an opposing counsel. Understand when there are reasonable causes of delay.
4. Your lawyer does not know how to proceed. Sometimes family law cases take on unexpected twists and turns. Who wants to tell their client they have no idea what to do about a certain issue? Nobody. If you think your lawyer is troubled by your case (often as result of a difficult opponent), be patient and try to help them help you through talking about realistic goals and actions.
3. You owe your lawyer money. Unfortunately, too many lawyers cut off communications when bills are unpaid. If you are having a tough time with legal bills, talk to your lawyer. Be honest. Lack of honest communication drives people to conflict and bad feelings.
2. Your lawyer owes you work. Lawyers do not want to tell their client another month has passed and their case is no further along. If you sense work is not being done, make the call and ask for a status on your matter. The squeaky wheel often gets the grease.
1. Your lawyer does not like you. Divorce matters can cause breakdowns in attorney-client relationships with no ill intent by either party. Wins and losses along the way can affect the relationship. Remember that your lawyer is there to be your advocate and not your best friend. Take a few breaths and keep on task.
What are some other tips and thoughts on effective attorney-client communications? Please feel free to comment below and offer your own tips on avoiding communication breakdowns.
[i] Botti Marinaccio, Ltd. is a leading and distinguished matrimonial law firm in the Chicago area. Dedicated solely to the practice of family law, our firm's talented and experienced attorneys represent many individuals whose cases involve the identification, classification, valuation, and division of multimillion-dollar estates.