Neglecting a client and their case is one of the main ways lawyers get in trouble.
Rule 1.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct governing lawyers states:
(a) A lawyer shall:
- promptly inform the client of any decision or circumstance with respect to which the client’s informed consent, as defined in Rule 1.0(g), is required by these Rules;
- reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client’s objectives are to be accomplished;
- keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter;
- promptly comply with reasonable requests for information; and
- consult with the client about any relevant limitation on the lawyer’s conduct when the lawyer knows that the client expects assistance not permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.
(b) A lawyer shall explain a matter to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions regarding the representation.
Rule 1.4 seems more than reasonable and is actually simple common sense. Why would a lawyer, who has money in trust to work on a case, not do this? Well, you may be surprised (or, perhaps not!). A recent disbarment of a Columbia lawyer makes it very clear this rule is to be taken seriously. In fact, this is one of the main area’s lawyers get in trouble (along with stealing trust money).
In the Lynn matter, four of Mr. Lynn’s previous clients had made a disciplinary complaint regarding Mr. Lynn’s failure to return phone calls, respond to emails, or keep his clients reasonably informed as to the status of the case. In addition, he stole money from his trust from other clients, which simply added fuel to the fire.
It is common for us to put off things, especially with difficult clients who take an inordinate amounts of our time. However, we went into this business by choice, and our law professors did mention that lawyers must meaningly interact with clients, so having to deal with clients is not only expected but required!
We have a tendency to want to take everything that walks in the door, but when we do, we become over whelmed, over worked, depressed and anxious. When work is slow, we are fearful, and the fear reinforces our belief that we cannot let any case get away, leading to take on more than we can handle. It can be a vicious cycle of overwork and the fear of not having enough.
So what to do?
The process can be hard, but I routinely ask myself- am I ok today? Have I done what I can do to bring in work or stay on top of a surge of case? Am I finding things to do when work is slow to keep me busy (like writing this article!) If the answer is a dispassionate yes, then I tend to relax a bit.
If we aim to live in the moment, which is very difficult in modern America, we see that our fears simply don’t exist and we make them up in our minds. Of course we are going to plan and strategize, but this is different than the catastrophizing that we simply make up in our brains.
So try to relax, plan well, get exercise, mediate, and try to realize our fears are often merely a figment of our imagination.