Failure to communicate – the most common cause of legal malpractice suits and complaints

Recently I was looking at some of the questions on Avvo.  I like to look at the ethics questions because it gives me a sense of what is going on in the mind of the average client.  The most common complaint I see involves attorneys who fail to communicate with their clients.

I also know, from my time organizing CLE seminars, that the most common reason for the filing of malpractice suits and complaints to the disciplinary board against lawyers involves the same issue, attorneys who fail to communicate with their clients.

No Excuse

There is absolutely no excuse for an attorney to fail to communicate with his clients.  If such lawyers put themselves in the shoes of their clients, they would realize that these folks are anxious, concerned about being involved in the legal system, worried about money, or going to prison, stressed out about the entire situation.  Then, to have the person they hired to protect them simply refuse to respond when they call, well, that is, frankly, disgraceful behavior.

Why Don’t Some Lawyers Communicate?

I have heard all sorts of reasons for why some lawyers don’t respond to their clients.

  • Too busy
  • Case not going well
  • Difficult client
  • Delays from other side
  • And so on

Here’s the thing. None of these are good reasons to fail to respond. If someone is too busy, he needs to get help.  And really, how busy does someone have to be that prevents sending of an email or a letter, or making a quick phone call? If the case isn’t going well, that is even a more important reason to let the client know what is going on. If it is likely the case will be lost, the client now will lose his case and be angry with his attorney. A perfect storm for a malpractice complaint. If the client is difficult, well, either deal with it or get rid of the client. If a delay is occurring, explain it to the client, and nudge the other side.

Why Do Clients Sue Over Lack of Communication?

Simple. They are frustrated. They are angry. And they don’t feel like the lawyer is doing his job.


Lawyers are in the communication business. Failing to respond to the client is not only unethical, it is likely to lead to ethics complaints. I imagine responding to an ethics complaint takes a lot longer than making a quick phone call.

I’d rather make the phone call. How about you?

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