One of the biggest complaints clients have about their lawyers is that they don’t always return phone calls. This is also one of the big reasons why a client may fire his or her lawyer and hire another. As a practicing personal injury attorney for 35 years, I’ve gotten some great cases due to another lawyer’s lack of proper return-call etiquette.
There is no doubt that lawyers have an ethical duty to keep their clients informed about the status of their cases. When a phone call does not get returned, it generally means the lawyer has nothing new to tell his client. A lawyer’s time is money. He would rather spend it working on a client’s file, which will lead to making money, than to pass the time on a phone call.
As easy as it is for me to understand why some client calls are not returned, the bottom line is that there is no reason why a simple return phone call, perhaps when the lawyer is less busy, cannot be made. Many lawyers will nowadays tell a new client that there may be long periods of time when they do not hear from them; that it is because they are working on their case and preparing it for settlement or trial; that they need only call the office to report new information, such as a new injury or new medical treatment.
I once had an elderly client who was involved in a simple car accident. I made the mistake of telling her that I thought her case would settle within a short period of time. She came to my office on a Monday. She called me that Friday to see how her case was coming along! Boy did I learn my lesson!
There is another reason why some client phone calls are not returned. As much as I hate to admit this, I’ve had clients that I did not care one way or another if they decided to hire another lawyer. What looked like a promising case at the start turned out to be a dud. It is only human for a lawyer to spend his time on the good cases, not the weak ones. So that failure to return calls could very well be a sign that the lawyer doesn’t think much of your case… at least not enough to keep it.
OK. You’ve made several phone calls to your lawyer. You’ve been told he is not available to take your call. You’ve left messages asking for a return phone call but do not receive one. I like to tell clients in that situation they have two options. (1) Drop by the lawyer’s office without an appointment and ask to see the lawyer or (2) drop the lawyer. As most personal injury lawyers are retained on a “contingency fee” basis, you will not have to pay your lawyer for his time and effort on your case. Your new lawyer will work out any compensation to your previous lawyer from the fee earned.
I recommend step (2) only as a last resort. Chances are your lawyer will eventually call you. When he does call, tell your lawyer you understand how busy he is but you get concerned when you do not hear from him in a long time. Make this deal … promise not to waste his time when he gets you on the phone in exchange for his promise to return your calls faster. Make yourself one of the “nice” clients who respects his time; one who doesn’t call unless it is important.
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