At Calbom & Schwab, the client file, while the property of the law firm, is always be available to the client; client file sharing is important to us. Client file sharing and communicating with the client are a part of the fabric of our lawfirm. If you are in our office at the time of establishing your file, we enter information into our database as we conduct the interview. In the typical setting, the person entering the information will have two monitors, one of which will be turned toward a new client so they can see the information being entered. Later in the life of the claim, and if the client wishes, he or she may simply make an appointment to come into the office where we will sit down with the client, the monitors mirrored so that the client is seeing the same information that is being reviewed by the attorney or the employee of the office, and we will take you through any documents which you request to review. If you want verifications of work we have done on your file, we will show you documentation of each phone call, email and letter exchanged in your case. We have an open door policy that simply says if you want proof of what we have done, we will show it to you.
Each law office is entitled to have its own procedures on client file sharing. Many law offices do not operate in the paperless environment in which our law office operates, the paperless environment (documents are not printed but stored on the computer for easy access from anywhere in the world) making it easier to exchange information with the client. But even in offices that are not paperless, the Washington State Bar Association requires good communications between lawyer and client. In fact, the Bar Association has a specific rule on communication: COMMUNICATIONS, RPC Rule 1. The attorney is to keep the client reasonably informed, comply with reasonable request by the client, and explain matters in regard to their relationship and case in such a manner that will permit the client to make an informed decision. See the link below to this specific provision:
Client file sharing is one prong of good communications.
I have had clients from other law firms, as well as our law firm, state that they cannot communicate with their attorney. They will state that they have called, but their call is not returned. I have even had clients from other law firms state they were refused an appointment with the attorney. If true, such would be a potential violation of the rule cited above. I am sure some other law offices have refused a request to meet with the attorney, but this refusal is often created by the client not knowing their right to require contact and better communications with the attorney. If you call the law firm, quote the rule above, you probably will get that appointment.
When you drill down deeper into the facts about communications with clients, what we typically see is something along the lines of the client calling the law firm, asking to speak with the attorney, and the attorney is unavailable for whatever reason. This is sometimes a staffing problem, the staff should make it clear, you are not being refused an appointment, the attorney simply is not available, but would you like an appointment with the attorney by phone or in person.
At Calbom and Schwab most of what we do is litigation, that is, presenting live or earlier recorded (deposition) testimony in a court room or administrative forum, such as before the Washington Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals. That means that we represent clients by being in trial or at live administrative hearings, and, if not before a judge, we are often taking depositions telephonically within our office or at the location of the witness. Too often a client calling into the office will not ask for an appointment by phone or in person when they are informed the attorney is not available; we are continuously asking our staff to ask this question when this occurs. As you can see from the rule above, it is not a matter of whether an attorney has an option as to communicate with you, the Washington State Bar Association requires that the attorney communicate with you. Both the simple solution and the desired solution by the law office, especially at Calbom and Schwab, is client, please simply request the scheduling of a telephonic, video conference or in person appointment. We want to communicate with you, we believe that most attorneys share our belief.
If you do not have good communications with your attorney, you do have the right to replace the attorney or the law firm.
The duty of the attorney is to communicate with the client, client file sharing helps accomplish this.
The rights of the client to see his or her file or client file sharing, to be able to communicate with the attorney, and proposals on how to better communicate should all be discussed with your attorney.