Communication between lawyer and client must follow certain guidelines in order to achieve the following objectives; that the lawyer can capture enough information from the client to know precisely the objective that he pursues; that the client perceives that the achievement of his objective, from the contact with the lawyer, is a process that the lawyer manages and governs; that the client perceives the lawyer's commitment to ethics, professionalism and confidentiality; and that a bond of trust is generated between lawyer and client.
Keys to efficient communication between lawyer and client
Communication between lawyer and client must follow certain guidelines in order to achieve the following objectives.
a. That the lawyer can capture enough information from the client to know precisely the objective that he pursues.
b. That the client perceives that the achievement of his objective, from the contact with the lawyer, is a process that the lawyer manages and governs.
c. That the client perceives the lawyer's commitment to ethics, professionalism and confidentiality.
d. That a bond of trust is generated between lawyer and client.
In turn, to achieve the aforementioned objectives, it is convenient to apply the following communication protocols.
1. Initial communication
The first thing to do after a brief presentation is something as simple and complex as knowing how to listen. Knowing how to listen for a lawyer implies managing silences with the aim that the client has temporary spaces that facilitate their expression. This will normally consume part of the meeting time with the lawyer, providing information that in many cases has no significance from a legal point of view. But it is important to listen patiently, because in that sea of words, often inconsequential, appear hidden gems of relevant information, which transcendentally help a lawyer to improve the efficiency of his work. Consuming time to detect this information is always profitable. The lawyer's work is much more efficient if he or she knows precisely what has happened to the client and what he wants to happen.
1.2. illustrated questions
It is obvious that the lawyer to obtain information first has to ask, but he has to do it in such a way that facilitates the client's response to be accurate. To achieve this goal, it is convenient to illustrate the questions. By way of example: if we ask a client who he wants to manage his new company, so that his answer can be precise, it will be necessary for the lawyer, while formulating the question, to narrow down some possible answers, after describing concepts related to the subject matter of the particular case. In our example, the lawyer, when formulating the question about who he wants to manage his new company, must introduce a brief explanation about the differences between a joint, sole and collegiate administration. With this information the client will be able to respond to the lawyer more accurately. The example seen in the area of corporate law can be applied to any other branch of law. You have to listen and intersperse questions, preceded by explanations about concepts, so that the client knows the options he has, in each case, to achieve his goal.
1.3. Neither exaggerate nor hide reality
There are lawyers who, in order to reassure the client, hide the difficulty of the matter; and on the contrary there are others who, in order to value their work, exaggerate the complexity of the problem. None of these attitudes is positive, because sooner or later reality prevails and the client perceives the information manipulation of the lawyer and this generates mistrust. The above does not mean in any case that we have to give up communicating with empathy, education and sensitivity.
1.4. The environment
If the client travels to our office, it is convenient to take into account the following:
• Prevent the client from being in our office with other clients. Going to visit a lawyer is a personal or professional act that can only be disclosed to third parties with the client's consent. Consequently, it is necessary to avoid waiting rooms with a capacity for many people and to manage the lawyer's agenda with precision.
• Avoid receiving the client in spaces that contain papers or information from other clients. It is important that the client perceives that his problem is the only one that occupies the lawyer at that moment.
• The lawyer must take care of his image and clothing in order to respect his client.
Some lawyers, in order to value themselves in front of a new client, choose to explain that they have addressed important matters on which they give detailed information to prove their experience with that new client. Although it is true that this type of conduct may initially reassure the new client, who perceives that his lawyer has experience in the matter he has been entrusted with, it is also true that later on the client will perceive the feeling that what he explains to his lawyer today, may be later explained to a third party. In other words, the client loses confidence in the professional secrecy of his lawyer and this loss is irreparable and definitively damages the client-lawyer relationship. What has been said does not imply that the lawyer cannot explain his professional experience to the client, but that he must do so avoiding in any case give data that can identify any of its other customers.
Fee information should be accurate and brief. This is very important information, but that does not mean that it should become the protagonist of the initial communication between lawyer and client. It is important to take care of the content that is written on requests for the provision of funds and lawyer invoices, to avoid violating professional secrecy. It should not be forgotten that invoices by their nature are reviewed by various administration, accounting, etc. people, and therefore it is important that their content does not reveal confidential information.
2. Intermediate communication
Once the initial communication phase has been completed, if the client has trusted our law firm and has placed a matter in our hands, the intermediate communication phase begins, this one will be in force until the end of the matter.
While a matter is alive, the client must receive information about its evolution on a regular basis, regardless of whether or not there are news. If there are no news, it is communicated that there are none. It is about the client perceiving that his affair is controlled. The information must always be transmitted in the same format (or formats) and respecting the same chronology, unless there is an important novelty or urgency.
2.2. Acknowledgment of receipt
Any information that the client sends to the lawyer must imply that the latter transmits the corresponding acknowledgment of receipt, regardless of the importance of the communication. Even when the communication has been orally, it is convenient to acknowledge receipt on written form with phrases such as "as we agreed in the telephone conversation of the day...". The acknowledgment of receipt avoids misunderstandings and transmits peace of mind to the client.
2.3. Recipients of the information
It is absolutely essential that the client indicates to the lawyer which person or persons should be the receivers of the lawyer's information. The lawyer can only change recipients by express order of the client.
When the lawyer informs the client of judicial resolutions or any other type of legal document, in addition to providing the body of that document, he must make available to the client a synopsis of the same that facilitates its understanding in an easy and precise way.
When the matter requires the intervention of many lawyers from different specialties, it is necessary that one of the lawyers becomes the main communication link with the client. This lawyer must attend all the meetings together with the different specialists and the client. His function is essential to coordinate the management of the matter and ensure that the client does not receive biased and out-of-context information.
2.6. Cultural level
Over time, the lawyer perceives the cultural level of the client. It is the lawyer's obligation to adapt his language, both oral and written, to the cultural level of his client with the sole objective of achieving easy and precise communication for the client.
2.7. Outside the office
Attorney-client communication is not always perfected in the offices of the attorney or client. On many other occasions, lawyers meet with their clients in more relaxed settings such as restaurants. It should not be forgotten that in these environments the lawyer continues to be a lawyer and therefore it is essential that he respects professional codes of conduct. In this sense, it should be remembered that the close environment, alcohol, food, do not excuse the lawyer from his duty of confidentiality and to convey to the client a responsible and balanced image. The lawyer cannot behave, despite the environment, as if he was a friend. Friendship, which on many occasions results between lawyer and client, over the years, when it is consolidated, causes a mutation in the relationship that generates a different interaction. In principle, in order to be able to perform his function efficiently and professionally, the lawyer must be independent of the client, for hierarchical, economic or sentimental reasons. In this sense, it is advisable to read the book entitled The Lawyer, by the Greek author Koutaldis Tryfon, in which he explains the relationship between Aristotle Onassis and his lawyer.
2.8. Public media
There are issues that by their nature become issues of public interest. In these cases, lawyers must manage the communication policy with the media following the strict instructions of the client or his communication advisors. We must avoid the temptation for the lawyer to become the protagonist of the information. His role is to be minimized. Anything that values the work of lawyers in the public media spreads the concept of whether the lawyer works a lot and it is very good, is because the client's matter is very complicated (the client has done something wrong) and that is why he needs such a competent lawyer.
You have to know that publicizing the role of the lawyer in a matter of public interest almost always harms the client. The initial return that the lawyer receives in your favor, eventually turns against you. The great fortunes and important companies have discreet and efficient lawyers.
3. Final communication
The end of a matter is different depending on if it is preventive or contentious advocacy. If the client goes to the lawyer, for example, to formulate contractual relations, to regulate economic or personal relations, when there is still no problem, the end of the matter does not usually have a specific chronological moment. On the contrary, contentious matters, those in which the client goes to the lawyer when there is already a problem, do usually have a specific final moment. A sentence, an arbitral award. In the latter cases, you have to know how to communicate this specific good or bad result to the client. If the result is good, for example, a sentence favorable to the interest of our client, communication is easy. It must be transmitted without a doubt as soon as possible to the person indicated by the client. Never by thinking that the news are good should that be communicated to a person other than the one designated by the client. If the result is bad, the personal characteristics of the client must be taken into account. Thus, unless there is an imminent deadline that requires the client to make a decision in a short period of time, communication can be delayed for a few hours. For example, if the lawyer receives the bad news at 10 p.m., in principle, he can wait to communicate the bad news to the client the next morning so that he can sleep more peacefully that night. This rule cannot be generalized, it must be adopted or not depending on the client's profile. The maxim to follow is that the client must receive the information immediately and only in some cases take into account a delay such as the one exposed, bearing in mind, as has been said, the client's profile.
When a matter ends, the attorney who has handled the matter and his colleagues have very valuable information about that client. They know what worries you and what interests you. If from the date the matter has ended the law firm continues to inform the former client of issues that interest or concern him, it is very likely that the client in question will come back to that law firm again. An example may be illustrative: if a lawyer has taken a case to a battery manufacturer, it is convenient that at the end of the case he asks for authorization to keep him informed of the activities organized by the office related to his sector, and of the regulations that also involve your business activity. Thus, if the firm organizes a seminar on subsidies applicable to the battery production sector or on a new environmental regulation that affects these goods, it is very likely that the old client will approach the firm again and perhaps hire a new service.
The lawyer has to analyze the communicative process from the ontological (what is communicated) and epistemological (how it is communicated) perspectives. The communication between lawyer and client must be led by the lawyer, it must be homogeneous, noble, sincere, intelligent, precise and generate tranquility. The client must know that no matter what happens, his lawyer is managing his case with professional criteria, with the strength and rigor of party representation and with all the instruments that the rule of law guarantees its citizens, through respect for the free exercise of law. Evidently, in countries where the free and independent exercise of the legal profession is not guaranteed, it is impossible to protect the most basic dignity and rights.
These tips are applicable with nuances to the practice of law in the five continents of our planet.
Jorge Pinto Sala.
Corresponding Academician of the Royal Academy of Jurisprudence and Legislation of Spain.