Overwhelming clients with communication

by Jamison Koehler on May 18, 2021
Baltimore graffiti

Back in the old days, before I was a lawyer, I was a manager with the federal government.  

One of my colleagues was this unctuous guy named “Russell” who was convinced that I was hiding information from him.  At staff meetings with our boss, he was always complaining that I kept him out of the loop on things.  

I decided to overwhelm Russell with information. I did not send out an email or hardcopy memo that he was not copied on.  I copied him on important things.  I copied him on less important things.

I called this the “Russell treatment.”

Not surprisingly, Russell did not take the time to actually read anything I sent him. After all, he was busy doing more important things of his own.

At the same time, he could no longer complain.

This is the strategy I have decided to adopt when it comes to communicating with clients:  It is better to err on the side of too much information. 

Because this is often what matters most to them.

We are trained in the law and our tendency is to focus on the lawyering.  We tell war stories about our success in the courtroom, not our ability to stay in touch with clients.  

The testimonials I take the most pride in are the ones in which a former client says something nice about my skills in the courtroom.  

In fact, people tend to focus more on whether or not I was accessible to them, whether I explained things to them in language they could understand, and whether I kept them abreast of developments in the case.  

The nuances of legal strategy are often lost on them.  And clients who are in jail love it when you take the time to visit.   

It is no coincidence that the D.C. Rules of Professional Conduct devote an entire rule – Rule 1.4 – to client communications:

(a) A lawyer shall keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information.

(b) A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.

And in the comments:  

A client is entitled to whatever information the client wishes about all aspects of the subject matter of the representation.

A client mentioned the other day he had not heard from my investigator or me for a while.  That comment was in fact what inspired this blog entry. 

I had to move past my initial reaction:  You have our cell phone numbers.  You are always free to call one of us.  

Since then we have given him the full “Russell treatment.”  We have not heard from him since.  

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