Client Communication is the Cornerstone of Effective Litigation Management
Prepared by M. Jansen Voss
November 20, 2020
I have been reflecting recently on client communication as a key component of my client-centered defense litigation practice. I find myself returning again and again to the following timeless principles:
1) Above-all, communication with the client should be open and honest. When a client is in crisis, the last thing anyone should do is reach for rose-colored glasses. Over the last 14 years or so, I have assured clients that they will hear the good, the bad, and the ugly from me. I work hard to be objective, pragmatic, and realistic in my communications with clients.
2) Communicate a clear and concise strategic plan for the resolution of the matter. The plan should be a joint effort with the client. Litigation activities should be consistent with the strategic plan—plan the work and work the plan.
3) Get a handle on liability, damages, and defenses, and communicate that to the client within the first 90 days. This is often done in conjunction with the development of a strategic plan (see #2). I stick with the strategic plan unless some truly unforeseen development occurs. The value of a case does not change simply because a trial date is right around the corner!
4) Report material developments to clients early and often. Although regular monthly reports to clients are important, material developments, especially of the bad and ugly kind (see #1 above), should be communicated with haste. Clients do not want to learn about a policy-limits settlement offer from Plaintiff’s counsel received last month. Likewise, clients don’t want to find out that a deposition last month up-ended the defense strategy.
5) Do not simply provide a recitation of litigation events. Lawyers are the antitheses of the passive observer, and our communications to the client should reflect that. It is important to provide the client with an assessment of how events affect our strategic plan, and our evaluation (and valuation). Although I cannot guarantee an outcome, I can leverage my education, training, and experience and provide an assessment of the best strategy, or likely outcome, given the current information available. The “50/50” assessment is not a meaningful or valuable application of legal judgment. That’s a coin flip, and it’s worthless.
6) Simple, clear, and concise communication is key. In most cases, providing the client with a ten-page summary of a deposition: 1) wastes the client’s time, 2) reflects a lack of focus and judgment on the part of the lawyer, and 3) is simply lazy lawyering. With respect to the last point, a Mark Twain quote comes to mind: “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”
7) Communicate future action items, and explain how those action items serve the strategic plan. This helps establish a proactive defense strategy, rather than a reactive or passive defense strategy.
M. Jansen Voss represents a wide range of businesses, governmental entities, and individuals in complex personal injury and wrongful death lawsuits, as well as business disputes and breach of contract matters.
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