Your Ultimate Guide to Ethical Client-Attorney Communication

Trust Account Bookkeeping
February 13, 2024

In the relationship between client and attorney, there are requirements for both parties. The client must trust their attorney, and the attorney must behave ethically. As the relationship is fiduciary, and attorneys are conducting a business and offering a public service, their end of the relationship has legal and moral obligations. That's why client-attorney communication is key.

Laws and regulations exist to protect client rights. Many of these laws apply fundamentally, encompassing everything from safeguarding funds and property to client engagement. Client rights should be among all attorney's highest priorities. They must be willing to engage in client education while actively championing and never consciously violating them. 

Client-Attorney Communication

Open communication from attorneys instills trust in clients that the attorney is working with their interests at heart. This strengthens the fiduciary relationship and can be one reason a client continues working with an attorney. 

The duties of how and what information a lawyer must communicate to preserve client rights have been listed in Rule 1.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct, subsequently titled “Communication with Clients.”

Rule 1.4 elucidates on communicating when informed consent is required, the extent of assistance attorneys are legally allowed to offer, consulting with clients regarding their representation goals, and specifies safeguards for delivering potentially troubling news. In short, these new rules expound on the attorney’s duty to communicate with the client in significant situations. In addition, Rule 1.4 establishes the first limitations on ethical attorney communication.

Updated Rules of Professional Conduct

In 2023, the amended version of the rule says the following: 

With this update five years after its effective date, communications regarding limitations on attorney conduct and client engagement are now re-defined and discipline-able. Making the way attorneys communicate with their clients an even more weighted process. 

CTAPP Education and Clients

orange county attorney using good client-attorney communication to discuss ctapp compliance

The Client Trust Account Protection Program has just passed a year in effect. In the past year, attorneys may have had opportunities to engage their clients with CTAPP education.

After all, the program's focus is increasing client and public safety and educating and assisting attorneys in managing trust accounts. Under the program, client rights are explained in detail as another duty attorneys must uphold while meeting record-keeping and overall compliance. 

Client Rights and CTAPP

Client rights are fundamental and should never be overlooked, especially regarding communication and money. While it isn’t necessary to place a handbook in front of clients, it is ideal that attorneys take presented opportunities to give clients CTAPP knowledge.

Clients need to know what they can ask for, what to expect from their attorney, and what behavior is appropriate and ethical. And no one is better to relay this information than the attorneys themselves. 

For example, a regulation within Rule 1.5 expounded in the CTAPP law is that attorneys must heed the “compliance period” in which they communicate the receipt of funds or other property to the client.

CTAPP Compliance

According to the Safekeeping Funds and Property of Clients and Third Parties, attorneys have a 14-day compliance period to acknowledge receipt of funds.

Before this client interaction, it would behoove clients to have had some CTAPP education to know when they can expect to receive communication. If an attorney does not meet these obligations, clients know their rights and have resources to retaliate against bad actors.

Such an interaction could save time confusion and ensure the client that the attorney is following the regulations set by the State Bar. In the same way, when a client requests information about their trust account, whether it be a balance check, copy of a statement, or inquiry of how their funds are being spent, an attorney is required to give this information.

Failure to do so violates a client’s rights and is not in CTAPP compliance.

Final Thoughts on Client-Attorney Communication

Effectively communicating with clients is an integral part of the client-attorney relationship. With the help of SmartBean’s dedicated bookkeepers, you can focus on client communication and remain in compliance with CTAPP regulations!

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