My lawyer isn’t keeping me informed on what’s going on. What can I do?

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Question:

My lawyer isn't keeping me in the loop on what's going on with my criminal case. I'm getting nervous because I don't know if things are going well or if I might end up in jail. Is there anything in the law that I can use to make sure I'm kept informed on the details of my charge and my case?

Answer:

Defendants should insist that their lawyers adhere to their ethical obligation to inform them about the progress of their cases. As defined by ethical rules, a lawyer’s duty to keep clients informed has two primary components:

  1. to advise the defendant of case developments (such as a prosecutor’s offered plea bargain or locating an important defense witness), and
  2. to respond reasonably promptly to a defendant’s request for information.

The duty to keep clients informed rests on attorneys, not clients. But on the theory that if the attorney screws up it’s the client who usually suffers, here are a couple of steps that defendants can take to try to secure effective communication with their lawyers:

  1. Raise the issue early on. Establish, in advance, a clear under­standing about case updates. If an attorney’s practice is to initiate contact only when a development occurs, the attorney should communicate that to the client at the outset of the representation. If a client wants (and can pay for) regular updates regardless of whether developments have taken place, that too can be spelled out in advance—even included in a written retainer agreement. 
  2. Be reasonable. A defendant who phones his or her attorney with a request for information can indicate a willingness to speak with the lawyer’s associate, secretary, or paralegal. The lawyer may be too tied up on other cases to return the call personally, but may have time to pass along information through an assistant. And because some lawyers have poor communication skills, the defendant may be better off getting information from an assistant than from the lawyer.

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