The general consensus when it comes to criticism of personal injury attorneys seems to be either the attorney is not responsive in communicating with the client or that the client feels as though attorney did not appropriately involve a client in making the substantive, important decisions relating to their case. Our attorneys are acutely aware of these potential shortcomings and actively practice in such a way to avoid being associated with those generalizations. In this entry, though, we'll discuss the decision-making aspect specifically.
So many decisions are made during the life of a PI case that it is undeniable that a client won't want to be involved in every single decision that is made. Some decisions merely fall into a category of decision that simply requires a legal professional's discretion and doesn't dramatically affect the client or their case. However, there are big decisions dictating the approach to a case and the course of the case, generally, which our clients are always involved in—so long as we can reach them! I'll explain:
Potential clients and clients of our firm will be asked to sign an “Authorization For Attorneys to Act on My Behalf” form which our office keeps on file (see photo). This document does provide our office greater power than we would ever likely use it for, though. A key reason that we need to have this document on file relates to the statute of limitations which might apply to a particular case and the potentiality that our client becomes unreachable when that statute of limitations is in danger of running. Believe it or not, we do have clients who change their phone number or address and don't update us. If ever there was a situation requiring prompt action to preserve a claim so our client doesn't lose their ability to pursue their damages—having this document on hand benefits us in that regard. To the extent we are kept up-to-date on our client's contact information, however, we make it a point, with little to no exception, to involve our clients' in all of the larger, substantive decisions that relate to their case. At least, we discuss large case expenditures with clients in advance; filing a lawsuit on the client's behalf; or accepting any offer (and every offer is communicated to our clients). To us, that's simply common sense. But, unfortunately we do hear from time to time that other attorneys at other firms are not involving their clients in these decisions.
Beyond just common sense and trying to run a respectable and sustainable and effective business, attorneys do have ethics rules that we feel we must follow (even where other attorneys might not) which dictate that we must do these things outlined above. Those rules are (I'm simply using Washington's version as an example, but Oregon's are similar):
Rule of Professional Conduct 1.4 - COMMUNICATION
(a) A lawyer shall;
(1) promptly inform the client of any decision of circumstance with respect to which the client's informed consent… is required by these Rules;
(2) reasonably consult with the client about the means by which the client's objectives are to be accomplished;
(3) keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter;
(4) 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.
Rule of Professional Conduct 2.1 - ADVISOR
In representing a client, a lawyer shall exercise independent professional judgment and render candid advice. In rendering advice, a lawyer may refer not only to law but to other considerations such as moral, economic, social and political factors, that may be relevant to the client's situation.
In sum, we strive to be the best personal injury and wrongful death attorneys that we possibly can be. We understand that a huge part of that is effectively serving the client and pursuing the client's goals. To that end, in order to do our jobs the way we aspire to, we feel that we must involve our clients regarding the most important decisions relating to their cases and ultimately provide them with all of the information they need to make the most informed decision they possibly can under the circumstances with respect to those important decisions. Because, yes, ultimately we understand it is their decision to make and we are here to arm them with the information necessary to make the right decision for themselves and to empower them to do so.