Once you have chosen your attorney, you make an appointment and go in for what is probably a free consultation as soon as possible. During your first meeting, you are the most important person in the room, and your new lawyer assures you that he has dealt with these kinds of issues before. You leave the meeting feeling confident that your attorney will handle the legal aspects of your case while you can finally relax, knowing you have someone on your side who can help.
Everyone involved in a lawsuit feels the stress and anxiety that always comes with litigation, and much of that stress is lessened when you finally sign a contract thinking you can move on with your case. However, sometimes clients find that time passes and they aren’t hearing from their attorney. They call and leave messages, send emails, and even send letters through the post, with no response from the attorney. What in the world is going on?
Ethical Rules for Lawyers
All lawyers are subject to rules of ethics from the American Bar Association and from the bar of the states where they practice. In Arizona, the State Bar has specific rules that deal with attorney/client communication:
- The attorney has to notify the client about each and every circumstance or decision that will require the client’s informed consent.
- Every attorney must consult with each client to discuss how best to accomplish the client’s objectives.
- The attorney must keep every client “reasonably informed” about the matter in which the client is being represented.
- The attorney must “promptly” comply if the client brings reasonable requests for information.
- If a client asks the attorney to do anything outside what an attorney is allowed to do because of the rules of ethics, the attorney must consult with the client about those limitations.
- Maybe most importantly, an attorney must explain the legal matter well enough that the client is able to make truly informed decisions regarding the representation.
The Timeline of a Lawsuit
When you’re involved in a lawsuit, you feel the pressure constantly. Even when you don’t think about it directly, there is an undercurrent of tension as you wait for the resolution of your case. Criminal cases can often be resolved quickly, but civil suits often drag out for years.
Time passes differently for you and your attorney. Your attorney is used to the timelines involved in litigation and understands that much of the time will be spent waiting. One party may file for discovery, giving the other party time to respond, and then the other party may file for a continuance because a party isn’t available on a particular day. Most courts are congested and no judge wants to be unfair to a party by refusing to allow the parties to present their best evidence.
Legitimate Reasons Your Lawyer Isn’t Calling
In the beginning, there are several good reasons your lawyer may not be calling you:
- You aren’t really the client. Many family members and friends go in and meet with the attorney, expecting the relationship to continue after the consultation. However, unless the client has given specific permission, the attorney will not be able to discuss the matter with you by yourself.
- There’s no reason to call. If the attorney has done everything possible up to that point, there may be nothing current to report. While you may be anxiously awaiting news, there simply isn’t any to report at the time.
- Your lawyer is busy. Most lawyers are very busy, dealing with other clients, preparing paperwork, going to court and even keeping up with legal education. Many lawyers don’t worry about a particular case until a hearing or deadline is approaching.
- Bad news. Lawyers are people too, and your attorney may be avoiding you because there is a negative outcome to report. The negative outcome might even be your attorney’s fault if there was a missed deadline or other problem.
- Sometimes it’s your fault. If you are making excessive phone calls or not following the advice of your attorney in other ways, your attorney may have decided to leave you out as much as ethically possible.
So What Can You Do If Your Attorney Won’t Talk To You?
If you are expecting your attorney to spend time chatting with you when there isn’t anything happening with your case, the best thing to do is accept that most attorneys don’t have that kind of time and stop worrying about it. As long as your attorney is meeting the deadlines in your case and appearing for hearings, you will probably be fine.
It is always good to communicate with your attorney how you feel about the situation. You and your attorney will work best as a team, and you will both be more comfortable if the rules regarding communication are laid out clearly. You won’t feel left out, and your attorney will feel better about your relationship.
If you really need to talk to your lawyer and can’t get through after many attempts, threatening to fire your attorney might be your best option. There are lots of attorneys out there who would love your business, and you are working against time if your attorney hasn’t even filed your lawsuit yet. The statute of limitations will only allow you to file a civil suit for up to two years after the incident in most cases.