What Your Lawyer is Doing When They're Not Calling You Back
Upon retaining counsel, some Personal Injury lawyers will provide a client with their personal cell phone number in case of a legal emergency. This is not a standard practice and clients shouldn't come to expect this gesture. Legal emergencies happen–especially in more complex or lengthier cases–and a quick text to an attorney before making a decision that could affect the entire outcome of the case for the worst is a better idea than "just winging it", and attorneys know this. An attorney that provides his or her cell phone number for legal emergencies–because those can happen any time of day, understands there's no way to reach the office after regular business hours. The majority of clients show their lawyer the respect and patience they deserve; they would never dream of abusing the privilege of having an attorney at their fingertips if they've furnished their cell phone number. They trust that their case is in the capable and experienced hands of their chosen law firm.
However, there are clients who feel that because they were granted direct access to their attorney, it makes their attorney obligated to answer every call, text, and e-mail as soon as they're sent (and some clients panic if they don't receive a response rapidly). Remember, a great attorney dedicates their entire life and career to the practice of law over the course of decades. Their chosen specialty becomes their sole focus and they treat each and every case with their innate passion for justice.
What goes on behind the scenes when your attorney is taking a bit longer to call back shouldn't be a cause for concern.
If there's a level of trust instilled between attorney and client, the attorney knows what he or she needs to do and has an entire team (legal assistants, paralegals, and seasoned associates) to get the job done. A client won't need to call or text an attorney they trust multiple times a day, just to "check in" and "see how it's going" if they've researched their chosen law firm, it's reputable, and they've handled similar cases.
A client who "checks in" may lack trust
If a client feels the need to check in on their lawyer, they may want to consider retaining a different legal office in which they can instill a deeper level of trust. The client deserves to feel their case is important, and an attorney who can't instill that level of security in his or her client should rethink their approach to how they handle their caseload. The client also must remember that the more time the attorney takes to answer a text, an e-mail, or return a phone call for questions that can wait is all time taken away from working on the case at hand.
Research before retaining
There are quite a few questions a client needs to research before that attorney-client relationship is established.
- Are they "paper pushers"? This could mean a number of things. Many Personal Injury law firms are only interested in volume. The volume of clients they can get out the door. The volume of cases they settle (and can consider a "win"). They're not interested in obtaining high dollar settlements if it means it will take their time away from five other cases waiting for them. Cases they can push out the door with a smaller but "respectable" check. These guys can't really be considered attorneys, despite their law degree. "Paper pushers" are more like adjusters. They settle as many claims as possible and consider themselves a success. These are the kind of firms clients should be wary of. You don't want to be a file in a stack on someone's desk. You want an attorney who will be in it for the long haul, a trial if need be.
- Are they reputable? What kind of reviews does the firm being considered have? Do they rank highly on Avvo and Google among the other client-sourced reporting sites? Firms with a lot of five star reviews but few testimonials should raise a red flag; firms with no web presence at all should also raise a red flag. A lawyer's web presence and the content of their website is extremely important. It helps a client know who the law firm is and what they're all about. A law firm that takes the time to present a clean, well maintained website with regularly updated content is a firm to consider retaining.
- What is their experience level? When it comes to Personal Injury cases such as wrongful death, the laws differ in every state. Florida has an especially complex legal system when it comes to fighting a wrongful death case and these cases can take years to get through the court system. A lawyer has to be in it for the long haul, and understand it's a marathon, not a sprint. If the law firm hasn't already tried a number of cases similar to the one at hand, it may be best to seek legal representation elsewhere.
Busy and ignoring: not one in the same
We've provided a client point of view throughout most of this article, now let's look at the legal side of the equation, because it's an equally important part of the attorney-client relationship.
When a client leaves a message they expect to receive a call from their lawyer in a customary and timely manner. This doesn't mean immediately, but by the end of the business day barring any delays that may be unavoidable (the lawyer may run late in trial, they may be out of town, or simply out of the office attending to another client that day). An experienced attorney will always return any missed calls as soon as they're back in the office.
Receptionists at law firms have the daunting task of compiling many dozens of messages every day, making sure the lawyer and his associates receive them. An attorney who doesn't return messages after several days or even several weeks is not doing his or her job. A quick call to let the client know they don't have time for a lengthy discussion is preferable (in order to schedule a time that works for both client and attorney) to radio silence.
Many clients will take a phone call that isn't returned as "something must be wrong with my case" and call the front desk multiple times, leaving multiple messages for the attorney. This not only slows down the process of getting your message to the lawyer, but keeps the receptionist from doing her job efficiently. Having to continually tell a client that yes, they promise, Mr. So-and-So will call back as soon as he or she is able! prevents them from getting other things done for the attorneys.
As we previously mentioned, though, radio silence is never acceptable. A lawyer should make themselves as available as is feasible to their clients during regular business hours. If that isn't possible, as is often the case due to lawyers having multiple cases at a time, a legal assistant should always be on hand to return messages on behalf of his or her lawyer, relaying the answers to any questions the client may have left with the receptionist and easing any worries they may have. It's human nature that a client will worry if they don't receive a call or e-mail back from someone at the office.
Face to face time is limited
Just because the client only sits down with his or her attorney for an hour here and there, it doesn't mean the client is forgotten the second they walk out the door. Quite the contrary. Many lawyers get to work on cases right after the initial consultation, when the information is fresh in their memory.
To answer the common question of "why isn't my attorney returning my phone call?" here's a quick list of things they may be doing while the client anxiously stares at their phone:
- Doing "discovery" on the case; they could be contacting someone on the client's behalf. They could be on the phone on behalf of the client obtaining records or files.
- They could be in trial; while this isn't an every day occurrence, when a lawyer does go to court, they are rendered unavailable to the outside world for the majority, if not all, of the business day.
- They could be in meetings, out of the office, or taking a much needed ten minute break to talk to a family member.
- They could be just about to return your call.
It's common courtesy to remember that attorneys are people too, not robots. The client has to trust that their attorney took their case because they believe in it and it's worth fighting for.