Lawyer Not Returning Your Phone Calls?
Nothing is more frustrating for a client than when their lawyer won’t return phone calls. It’s almost as frustrating when clients won’t return phone calls – which is surprising. “Hey! I’m calling to tell you about a good offer, so please call me back so I can put some money in your pocket.” Please inform your attorney if you get a new phone number or email address. It’s a two-way street.
Why Lawyers Don’t Return Clients’ Phone Calls
The personal injury lawyer’s most valuable asset is his time. This isn’t new; Abraham Lincoln is famously quoted as: “A lawyer’s time and advice are his[her] stock in trade.”
The most common reason is when the attorney is not in the office. Attorneys are oftentimes at a courthouse or in a long (a lot of defense attorneys charge hourly) deposition.
Time is also divided between tasks moving the cases toward resolution (and payment) and those that do not. Guess which category “client phone calls” fall in, more often than not? Unless you call your lawyer to give him or her some crucial information, the odds are good that your phone call is doing nothing to advance your case. Most clients call with questions about their case’s status or concerns over how their case is developing. While these calls are essential to clients and important to the lawyers, they may take less priority with another looming court deadline.
There is no doubt that lawyers have an ethical duty to keep clients informed about the status of their cases. However, this rule doesn’t necessarily mean that your lawyer needs to convey this information daily, personally, or even over the phone. A paralegal assigned to your case can often answer your “case status” questions. Some clients will call/email/text multiple times a day – even when cases can’t move that quickly.
Most personal injury lawyers will tell you when you first hire them that there will be long periods during your case when they are simply gathering information and waiting until your case is ready for settlement or trial. I refer to this as the “hurry up and wait” period. We can file the lawsuit and get the defendant served, but the defendant’s Answer isn’t due for 20 days. The delays are also frustrating for the attorneys working on the cases.
When something significant approaches, such as scheduling a deposition, defense medical examination, or mediation, your attorney’s office will contact you immediately. I think – from a lawyer’s point of view, most lawyers generally only contact clients when something has happened on the case – because otherwise, there wouldn’t be a need to call. But! After checking on clients to see how their medical status (for example) is going, we’ve found that we will sometimes, but usually not, learn something new about the case. At the same time, if you haven’t heard from your attorney in several weeks, definitely call to “touch base.”
How You Get Your Lawyer to Return Your Calls
Now that you know why lawyers don’t generally return client calls, how can you get your lawyer to return your call?
First and foremost, don’t call your lawyer all the time. The “Little Boy Who Cried Wolf” story should be your guide here. If the paralegal can answer your question, let him/her. It is OK to call your lawyer’s office and specifically ask for the paralegal to get your regular status updates. Calling every day doesn’t speed your case up.
This is a reminder for any phone call, but do not be rude or abrasive when calling your lawyer’s office (or dentist, etc.). The goal here is to get your questions answered or a return phone call to get your questions answered. If you are argumentative with the receptionist, they’re less likely to go out of their way to help you. Some lawyers will fire their clients if they can’t get along with their staff.
This is a reminder for other attorneys, too. It’s surprising to me when a defense attorney will call and leave me a message, “This is _____, give me a call when you return.”
Um, what? Defense attorneys should know to leave their name, what case matter, and why they’re calling. Likewise, when you call, leave a message about why you’re calling. If you have a question, leave a message with the actual question. This way, your lawyer knows exactly why you’re calling and can prepare your answer before he or she calls, saving you both time on the phone. Some questions may also need a follow-up, so stating the same question twice doesn’t help.
It seems like more and more of my younger clients don’t like to use their cell phones for phone calls. If you prefer email/texting, it’s easier to ask multiple questions simultaneously vs. sending 10-15 messages back and forth throughout the day.
Also, Email your lawyer and the paralegal if you have questions. This can help make sure everyone is on the same page.
Practical Tips for Making Sure Your Lawyer Calls You Back
Defense attorneys and clients are also sometimes really hard to get ahold of, so these tips aren’t just for clients.
- Make an appointment for a 15-minute phone call with your attorney. Have the paralegal check their calendar and schedule you for an available time – a 15-minute phone call. Now he or she can’t say they don’t have time to call you. Most attorneys live by checklists and their “docket” (calendar). Establish “who calls whom” when you make the appointment.
- If your attorney still can’t call you back when you have a scheduled time, then maybe it’s time to look for a new attorney.
- If you still don’t have a returned phone call, I guess the next step would be to make an appointment to come in and meet with your attorney in person. Don’t take “no” for an answer. If his or her office won’t give you an appointment, remind them of their ethical duty to keep you informed about your case and tell them that if they don’t call you back by the end of the day with an appointment to see him or her, you’ll have to see what other options are available to you.
If your lawyer still doesn’t communicate with you, they must have a health condition or another family emergency. But, the last step is to stop by your lawyer’s office without an appointment and try to see them then.
As a final step, if none of the above advice has helped you, you likely need another lawyer. You may have to fire your current lawyer before other lawyers will speak to you about your case.