Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Tips for Client Letters

Writing client letters isn't the sexiest part of law practice, but knowing how to write them is an essential skill for every lawyer. The following tips will help you draft letters that serve the important purposes of keeping the client informed about the lawsuit, recording how you’ve handled the case, and informing the client about what to expect from the litigation.

Develop a plan based on the client’s level of sophistication and desire for information

Is your client an individual or a large, sophisticated company frequently involved in litigation? How often does your client want to hear from you and how much does the client want to be involved in the litigation? These questions will guide you in determining the information and level of detail of your client letters. Some corporate clients require letters at certain intervals, such as every three months or upon the completion of certain tasks (e.g. discovery). Others don’t want to pay for client letters and only want them sent sporadically. Individual and corporate clients may be deeply interested in minute details about the litigation or may only want or understand very general information about the lawsuit. You likely will need to explain legal terms and concepts to unsophisticated clients, while sophisticated ones will understand what a motion for summary judgment is and why you want to file one. Decide how often you need to write to the client and what level of detail you want to include and calendar dates for sending updates.        

Briefly Outline What’s Happened and What the Happenings Mean

You generally should start each client letter with a summary of what’s happened in the litigation since the last time you spoke with or wrote the client. Keep your letter a short as possible while including the most important information and details:

As you know, on March 21 I attended a hearing on your behalf and argued the defendant’s motion for summary judgment should not be granted. The judge agreed and has issued an order denying the defendant’s motion.

Then let the client know what any happenings mean in the greater scheme of the litigation:

This denial means your lawsuit continues, and we can either attempt to settle your suit with the defendant or go forward with a jury trial.

Tell the Client What to Expect

Is the opposing party likely to file a motion to dismiss or motion for summary judgment? If so, let the client know that in advance so the client won’t be surprised if it happens in the future. Will the client need to give a deposition? Go ahead and let him know that in advance. Include likely time frames as well, since many inexperienced litigants don’t understand how long the legal process can take. You might write something like this:

I have just filed your answer, so now the 6-month discovery process will begin. During discovery, the plaintiff will send written questions and requests for documents. When I receive these requests, I’ll contact you so we can work together to draft responses and gather the requested documents. The plaintiff also likely will want to take your deposition. At your deposition, you’ll be placed under oath, and the plaintiff’s attorney will ask you questions about yourself and the accident at the center of this lawsuit. I’ll be at the deposition with you to ensure that the questions are appropriate. Don’t worry yet about your deposition. Once we confirm the deposition date, I’ll meet with you to prepare for the deposition and let you know more about what to expect.

Invite Questions

Some clients feel they cannot contact their attorneys to ask questions (often, but not always, because the attorney has done something to make them feel this way--such as not returning voicemails or emails). This feeling can lead to dissatisfied clients, which can lead to bar complaints or, worse, legal malpractice lawsuits. Despite your best efforts to be clear, you client still might not understand your letter or the litigation process. Conclude each client letter by inviting the client to contact you with any questions about the contents of the letter or the litigation in general:

I will let you know as soon as the judge rules on the motion to strike the plaintiff’s expert’s affidavit. In the meantime, if you have any questions about the lawsuit or the contents of this letter, please feel free to call or email me.   

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