Do You Tell Your Clients What You Expect From Them?

Practice law long enough and you’ll encounter a client that makes your job difficult, even if he is unaware of it. Clients may be unfamiliar with the legal process and may not understand what their lawyers need from them.

A lawyer might make the attorney-client relationship a little bit smoother, if she clearly outlines what she expects of a client during an engagement. An engagement letter is a great place to do that.

Some client duties to consider including in the engagement letter are:

Duty to Be Truthful

A lawyer should require truthfulness from her client, which includes full disclosure of all facts and documents relevant to the matter. This is particularly true when the engagement is taken on a contingency basis. In order to properly assess the risk of taking on the matter, a lawyer needs access to all relevant facts. If a client withholds important information, the lawyer may end up investing time and advancing significant money in a case only to learn about an adverse fact when the client is testifying at trial.

Duty to Cooperate

A lawyer should also require cooperation from his or her client. Clients should agree to keep appointments, and they should agree to make themselves available during the engagement for meetings, depositions, mediation, hearings, trial, and the like.

Duty to Communicate

Throughout the lifespan of a matter, a lawyer routinely needs input from the client (e.g., responses to discovery requests, settlement negotiations, etc.). If a client goes AWOL, the lawyer is put in a bad spot, and his ability to adequately represent the client diminishes. If the failure to communicate persists, then the lawyer may expose himself to liability. For these and many other reasons, a client should be told of his duty to communicate with the lawyer.

Along those lines, clients should also be informed of their duty to update the lawyer of any change in address or contact information. And if the client is an entity, it should also inform lawyer of any changes in structure or ownership.

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