The need to improve client communications is a challenge that many law firms find themselves faced with over the course of their practice. And as the central source of information, paralegals are often the main point of connection for clients, legal professionals, and court staff,
A study published in 2016 by the American Bar Association (ABA) found that 36 percent of the malpractice claims filed against attorneys from 1997 to 2007 were the result of miscommunication with clients. To address this issue, one of the best things that law firms can do is improve client communication. And this can require efforts from the entire team.
Enhancing paralegal-client communication
As the team member who typically has the most frequent contact with clients, paralegals are often called upon to act as a liaison between the client and the attorney. Paralegals answer questions and provide guidance and support to clients many times as a case proceeds toward resolution, particularly at the initial client interview, throughout the discovery process, and during trial preparation.
Paralegals can facilitate the understanding of complex information and avoid misunderstandings by following simple rules to improve client communication:
1. Allow clients to speak for themselves…
and listen closely to what they have to say, relaying important information back to the attorney. Clients who don’t want to bother their attorneys with a lot of questions often feel more comfortable speaking with paralegals, particularly to obtain status updates and progress reports.
2. Talk with clients in plain English…
not legalese, ensuring that they feel confident in their understanding of the details. Clients often look to paralegals for greater clarification of complex legal concepts that may be only briefly mentioned in legal proceedings and meetings with attorneys.
3. Return phone calls as soon as possible.
Because attorneys are often mired in the details of a case and do not have time for extended phone conversations, paralegals can build client confidence by keeping the lines of communication open.
4. Show courtesy and respect…
in all client communications. Keeping topics professional and focused on the details of the case, if possible, avoiding personal conversations.
5. Keep the details of a client’s case confidential.
An attorney’s obligation to keep client information confidential extends to the paralegal. Although it should go without saying, don’t talk to your clients about their case in public places; if you receive case-related text messages from clients, delete them immediately; and never reference your client’s case on social media.
6. Repeat important information to clients in different ways…
and as often as necessary. Legal terms and concepts are difficult for most lay people to grasp, and explaining them numerous times in various ways, preferably through the use of examples, can lead to greater client understanding of the procedures involved in their case.
7. Provide clients with regular and periodic status updates…
on how their case is progressing. Frequent communication helps to reassure clients that there are no drastic issues with their case, while also building their confidence in the attorney and the entire legal team.
8. Send copies of all documents to the client promptly…
with a breakdown of important points, if possible. Clients like to see concrete evidence of the work that is being done on their case, and pointing out critical events can be extremely beneficial in helping them understand that progress is being made.
9. Never give legal advice, and make it clear you are not a lawyer.
If you are relaying legal advice, make sure that the client comprehends that it comes from the attorney, not you. Clients often do not understand the part that each member of the legal team plays in their case, and you might be called upon to explain your role.
10. Never make promises you can’t keep…
such as when a case will settle or the potential value of a case, even if the client tries to press you to do so. The client might rely on these statements, creating a potential ethics problem for your attorney, and for you as well.
Paralegals are not attorneys, yet their work product is merged with and becomes part of the attorney work product for a client. If a paralegal uses effective communication skills, particularly with clients, this will improve the working process of the whole team, and further enhance the client’s relationship with the entire law firm.
Do you have any tips for better paralegal-client communication? Tell us about them in the comments!