By Criminal Defense Lawyer Jeremy Rosenthal
A lawyer has an ethical duty to communicate with their client under Texas Rules o Disciplinary Conduct:
Rule 1.03 says:
(a) A lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information.
(b) A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.
Lack of Communication is the Chief Complaint About Lawyers
I wish I had the answer why. I hate more than anything when someone comes into my office and says another lawyer they’ve worked with seems sharp, competent — but they just don’t return phone calls and the client is left in the dark. Anyone in a criminal defense lawyer’s office is going through a stressful episode in their life either for themselves or along with a loved one. The last thing they need is to be left in the dark about crucial aspects of a case.
Communication with Clients
Communication is a two way street and its complications go back, no doubt, to the dawn of mankind. Every client of mine is different just the same as I’m different than any other lawyer. Every attorney-client relationship is therefore unique.
Here are some observations:
- My phone number ringing and flashing on a screen can be the most traumatic 8 -seconds of that client’s month;
- It can be dicey to call a client while they’re at their place work for obvious reasons;
- Giving mundane details either bores clients or causes them unnecessary stress;
- There is certain news or updates which are better done in person due to the time it will take or possible follow-up questions;
- You want the lawyer explaining to you the intricacies of preserving jury charge error under the standard promulgated by the Almanza case from the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals in 1986 — but the lawyer doesn’t need to be the one who tells you the best exit to take to get to the courthouse.
Many of the points listed above say the same thing — communication for the sake of saying you were communicating isn’t always a great idea. Rule 1.03(a) & (b) have built in words like the attorney shall keep the client “reasonably informed,” promptly reply to “reasonable requests for information,” and the lawyer shall explain matters to the extent they are “reasonably necessary” for the client to make informed decisions.
We want happy clients who refer us business long after their case is over and they have a friend in need. That means good customer service and we don’t need some rule to tell us that.
One of our advantages at Rosenthal & Wadas is we have a great office staff who are trained to handle any and every question they are capable of answering. This accomplishes a number of things:
- You get the answer to routine questions without having to wait for a lawyer;
- You never feel like you are bothering us with something you worry might be trivial or simple to us but is important to you;
- It makes our office staff happier to help, get to know, and be involved with our client care;
- It allows our lawyers to focus on the intricate and crucial parts of your case.
One of the down-sides is it is common for some people to have built-up such a good rapport with me or one of our other lawyers that they feel less comfortable talking with our office staff — even about basic issues. That’s fine too and we are happy to accomodate this as well.
How I do It
I do my best to get back to everyone every day. Email is normally the best though if the answer is too complex I may give you a call back when I can spend the time to do the issue justice. If I’m in a spot where I can’t get to that question or issue quickly then I’ll ask one of our staff members to help if the question is appropriate.
At our office — we never want to hear a client feel like they aren’t being communicated with.
*Jeremy Rosenthal is a Licensed Attorney in the State of Texas and is Board Certified in Criminal Law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. He was designated as a SuperLawyer by Thomson Reuters in 2019.