Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Can you Hear Me Now? Tips for Communicating with Counsel

By Sarah Barrios

Imagine that some circumstance arises that leads you to need an attorney. Perhaps you have a dispute with a neighbor, are considering adopting a child, or have been wrongfully terminated from your employment. No matter what your legal matter may be, you may find that a common question arises in your mind: How do I best communicate with my attorney? Today’s technology provides many options for communication, ranging from social media websites like LinkedIN and Twitter to increased modes of communication such as Skype video-conferencing, and texting. It can be confusing for a client to know what the most effective way is to communicate with an attorney (especially if he or she is represented for the first time). Here are a few tips you may want to consider:

1. Ask your Attorney. Many attorneys have the ability to use different modes of communication. Your attorney, however, may prefer you contact him or her using a particular mode. Some may prefer email, while others may be better able to respond to telephone calls. You may find that your attorney’s preference for how you get in touch is based on the circumstances. If you are running late to a settlement meeting, a call may be more effective than an email, for instance. Open a line of dialogue with your attorney about their specific suggestions as to how you can best communicate with them.

You should also remember that your attorney may be able to better communicate with you if he or she knows your preferences. Most attorneys request of their clients an email address, phone number, and mailing address. If you do not use a cellular phone or other mobile device, allow your mail to pile up, or do not have privacy in your home to review sensitive emails, you will want to share this information with your attorney.

2. Consider the Length and Frequency of Messages. We may all have had the experience of leaving a voicemail so long that the recording turns off, resulting in an incomplete message. And we may all have had the experience of writing lengthy emails, especially when those communications are about concerning or pressing matters. When communicating with your attorney, you’ll want to consider the length and frequency of your messages. Ask your attorney to share with you his or her typical response time by posing a question like: “How long do you suggest I wait for your response before reaching out again?” You may find that you can avoid unnecessary fees and costs by preventing duplicate messages. You may also want to ask your attorney to share with you a few months into the attorney-client relationship whether he or she has suggestions for managing emails or other communications that are particularly lengthy. For instance, before writing a lengthy email on a particular subject, you may want to just drop your attorney a line and ask whether a call or email will be more effective.

You may also wish to discuss with your attorney limiting each email to one issue, or to start a new “thread” or email conversation once your exchange reaches a particular length.

3. Format your Messages for Clarity. One suggestion I often share with clients is to use numbered lists or bullet-points when exchanging emails with me. This not only helps me to more easily digest lengthy emails, but it speeds up the process of responding, which can save the client time and money in return. I have also found that when a client sends a lengthy email with many questions interspersed, I can respond more quickly by typing my response into the body of the client’s original email. In those circumstances, I will use a bold and colored text to respond, and instruct the client to respond in all capital letters. While the formatting of your messages may not have an impact in a single instance, over the life of a case these kinds of strategies may be effective for you and your attorney.

4. Be Prepared. When you are planning to exchange email, teleconference, or otherwise speak with your attorney, attempt to reasonably anticipate what questions she or he may have for you. At times, you may want to reach your attorney’s legal assistant or office staff to ask whether your attorney suggests you review or provide documents. Being properly prepared can help you make the most of the time you and your attorney spend in discussion.

Whatever your legal needs may be, speaking with your attorney about how best to communicate can lay the foundation for a more pleasant and effective attorney-client relationship.