The level of communication between a client and the lawyer during a personal injury case is one of the most important factors of any case, and the least discussed. I hear complaints almost daily by potential clients seeking to change lawyers due to lack of communication. I hear horror stories about investigators who come to clients’ homes or hospital rooms, have them sign contracts and then are not heard from again for months. I also hear regularly about how a client met with a lawyer during an initial intake appointment and then neither the lawyer or his office are heard from again until they get a call about some bad news on the case.
What is a reasonable frequency level of communication between personal injury attorney and personal injury client in a personal injury case?
The truth is that the Florida Bar has recognized problems with client communication in personal injury cases, but the rules are vague. In reality, it is up to the consumer, the personal injury client, to decide which level of customer service is appropriate and to choose the law firm that can deliver that service.
As mentioned in the above, the Florida Bar in their Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers has at least three separate provisions regarding communication with clients.
In the Preamble, it states that a lawyer should maintain communication with a client concerning a representation. In Rule 1.4, it states, that a lawyer shall keep the client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and has a duty to explain matters to a client to the extent necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions.
The Florida Bar also has created a Statement of Clients Rights for Contingency Fees. This applies specifically to personal injury, motorcycle and auto accident cases. This Statement must be in writing and signed by every client. Personally, I read this statement to every client, explain every section and ask for any questions before having the client sign. I am told by many clients that other lawyers did not read or explain the Statement and simply were asked to sign at the bottom. Regardless, the Statement of Client’s Rights provides that the client has the right to ask the lawyer at reasonable intervals how the case is progressing and to have those questions answered to the best of the lawyer’s ability.
Does the Florida Bar Mandate communication levels between personal injury attorney and personal injury client?
So, practically speaking, what do these rules mean and what guidance do they provide to personal injury clients? My response is that they are so vague that they are often ignored by lawyers. My philosophy is to never be in a position where there could be complaints about client contact. For clients, it is important to know that the lawyer does not know in real time every time your doctor makes a recommendation in your case. Although our office requests notes from the appointments, they are often delayed by weeks. So, I advise every client to call, text or email me about major developments in the case. For example, I need to know when an MRI is ordered and what the results are. I need to know if your doctor has referred you out to see a specialist. I need to know if you have missed multiple appointments or there is a gap in treatment due to work or illness. I need to know if more intense treatment is ordered such as injections or surgical consultation. To the contrary, I do not need to know every time you go in for physical therapy or to see your chiropractor. My office staff is instructed to regularly pull medical records and to communicate with clients who are treating at least every three weeks. Those clients who are not treating do not need regular contact, but must be made aware when there are developments in the case.
Overall, most firms do not provide sufficient levels of communication and it does negatively affect the case. I have heard the stories from other lawyer’s clients who come to me after running up $20,000 in out of pocket medical bills when there is only a $10,000 insurance policy. Every time I ask about how that could happen, they say I never spoke to my lawyer.
In conclusion, it really is up to the consumer, the personal injury client, to do their due diligence on a lawyer by reading reviews or asking about communication policies before they sign the contract. I guarantee you will receive better service and a better result in your case if you take this advice.