Ethics rules require you to keep your client informed (see ABA Rule of Professional Conduct 1.4). The client’s guidelines may require interval and event reporting. But sometimes it feels like nobody on the other end is reading your client status reports. If you’ve ever had a client ignore an appointment or had to follow up multiple times for settlement authority, this post is for you.
1. Put the Important Stuff at the Top
Make sure the “Re:” line includes everything the reader needs, especially if the client monitors multiple cases. That would include identifying the parties, the case number including the venue if relevant, and the client’s identifier.
At the same level as the “Re:” give your report a title. Don’t be afraid to capitalize and underline: REQUEST FOR AUTHORITY or ACCOUNTANT DEPOSITION SUMMARY. Then provide the upcoming dates the client needs to know about. This format makes the critical information accessible, even if the reader never reads the whole report.
It might look like this:
2. Use Headings
Rather than a continuous flow of text, create subtitles within your report, such as:
- Marshall’s Written Discovery Responses
- Herman’s Written Discovery Responses
- Proposed Strategy
This allows the reader to jump to the sections of greatest interest.
3. Keep It Short, Preferably One Page
Many reports include long summaries of legal research, records or depositions. Your client’s eyes may glaze over. In the face of multiple time demands, the client may file your report in the “to be reviewed later” category. Rather than overwhelm your reader, put that summary in an attachment and only include a properly headlined executive summary in your letter. For example: “Plaintiff’s Answers to Interrogatories disclose two prior collisions with injury to the lumbar spine; complete summary attached.” Keep the less important details for the attachment. Bonus: This method saves time when the lawyer writing the report (say, a partner) and the lawyer writing the summary (an associate?) are different.
Making your status report as reader-friendly as possible enhances the attorney-client relationship. Experienced clients may even voice their pleasure with your easily understood communication: “You don’t write like a lawyer!”
It can be maddening to give your client your best effort which is then frustrated by the client’s own unresponsiveness. Expediting a needed response enables you to do a better job for the client in ways the client may not even understand, burnishing your professional image.
Theda C. “Teddy” Snyder mediates workers’ compensation cases throughout California. An attorney since 1977, she has practiced in a variety of settings and frequently speaks and writes about settlements and the business of law. She is a Fellow of the College of Law Practice Management. Based in Los Angeles, Teddy can be found at www.WCMediator.com, and you can follow her on Twitter @WCMediator.