Jerome Salmi Kopis, LLC | JSK Law Firm in Fairview Heights, IL

The Importance of Attorney Client Communication

Why we want to be as accessible as possible to you and why our first meeting with a client is always the most important one.

RICK SALMI:
I, first, always like to be as accessible to clients as possible. I think the vast majority of people that we talk to haven’t had to have a work injury before. They haven’t had to file a claim, so they don’t really know what to expect. So, from the very get go, the first meeting with them, I try to walk through at least all the basics of what happens in a workers’ compensation case. What are your rights? What can you really expect? I think that’s the first part, is just helping communicate how the system works and what we can expect to happen in their particular case as far as I’m-

DAVID JEROME:
I’m going to jump in, but I think it’s important to note here that one of the things that we focus in on is that first meeting is with us. It’s not with a paralegal because we want to make sure that that table, that time table, the expectations, that all the questions can be answered by us, not just a paralegal going out to visit them. It’s us.

RICK SALMI:
Well, I’ve worked in situations where that wasn’t how things were set up, and I think that you lose the connection and the trust right out of the gate-

DAVID JEROME:
Absolutely.

RICK SALMI:
… if you don’t have that initial contact, that meeting with the person because you can look each other in the eyes and really understand what you’re about. That’s what I always want to-

DAVID JEROME:
Build their trust. You want to build that trust from the beginning.

RICK SALMI:
Yeah. Absolutely. I always want people to understand that I like helping people, and so that’s kind of where I start from-

DAVID JEROME:
That’s why we’re no longer defense attorneys.

RICK SALMI:
Right, exactly, but then additionally, the reality of our practice is that we’re not always available, we’re not always in the office. It’s trials, it’s depositions, it’s out of state dockets, things like that, and so that’s why it’s so important that our staff here is able to keep up. We keep notes where everyone can access the same information on a case. We make sure we keep each other updated, and we just share information. We talk about cases to make sure that everyone has an idea. Other than that, just written correspondence is also helpful. Email is certainly crucial in today’s day and age. I can send someone an email or a client can send me an email, and they know it’s right on my phone. I’m going to get that.

DAVID JEROME:
I do think that that’s very helpful in today’s age. We’re using emails, text messages. My clients have my cell phone number, so they know they can text me, and so it’s one of those things where we know, especially in the workers’ compensation setting, because we’re the ones helping to create those doctor’s appointments, helping to make sure that lost time check is there. They need to know that they can reach us either by way of email, text, phone call, talking with our paralegals.

DAVID JEROME:
To us, those lines of communication have to be open because in as much as we are helping them, they have to help us by keeping us updated as to what’s going on with their medical status, what’s going on with the medical picture. That’s why when I meet with my clients, I’ll tell them, “You know, I’m not billing you by the hour, so don’t feel like if you call me, I’m going to bill you a a quarter of an hour. That’s not how this works. Don’t feel bad. If you want to call me, if you’re at a crossroad …” because this is a stressful time in their life.

DAVID JEROME:
I mean, they don’t know who’s going to pay the medical bills, who’s going to pay for their lost time. Are they going to get fired? I mean, these are all questions that we have to answer for them and questions that sometimes require followups and further discussions. Those lines of communication have to be open, and we have to have that open rapport with them. I think using not only modern technology but also our office staff has just helps that dramatically to keep those lines open. I know civil’s a little different.

JAYE LINDSAY:
Well, I was thinking it’s definitely not a one size fits all. I mean, people have different preferences too. I have a lot of clients now. I focus on nursing home abuse cases a lot, and many of those clients may be up in years. I know a lot of my clients do not feel comfortable using text messaging to communicate. So, for that particular client, I might say, “Okay, fine. I’ll send you regular updates by mail. You can call me if you have questions.” Whereas I may have another client who’s 19 years old and just gotten her first car wreck, and this person would feel much more comfortable just snapping pictures of the car and snapping a picture of the bruise on the knee and snapping pictures of documents and send them to me by text. That actually is fine. I love text messaging because we have software that will automatically import those images and put them right into the case file. That’s streamlined. It’s quick, it’s easy, so we want to meet clients where they are and their needs.

JAYE LINDSAY:
If somebody is more comfortable on the phone, we’ll meet you there as well. That’s really, I think that’s what client communication means to me, is finding out what works best for each client because it’s not always going to be the same. On the same token, some of my cases take years to resolve. I think work comp’s the same way. Some of the cases are much more complicated, might take a lot longer. There might be a case that’s only going to take a few months. You don’t have a lot of time in between communications whereas another case, maybe a very, very lengthy litigation case where there might not be a whole lot going on every day to report. So, in that case, it might be a simple email from time to time.
DAVID JEROME: Yeah, but I know that we make it a rule essentially that we do make certain that letters go out every 30 to 45 days, letting our clients know your file isn’t just sitting. We are aware and keeping regular updates on every one of our files, every one of our clients because I’ve heard horror stories of clients who may not get letters for six months, eight months in between.

JAYE LINDSAY:
Oh, wow.

DAVID JEROME:
To us, I just can’t fathom that. To me, a regular line of communication with my client is so crucial not only for us understanding what’s going on in their case but their understanding where we’re at in our process of the case.

JAYE LINDSAY:
Yeah, another good reason behind that too, David, is you think about somebody who moves. If you allow a long period of time to go in between communication, somebody could move or change phone numbers, you might not even know. That’s a really good reason to why we try to get email addresses, things like that, so that if for some reason, one of our clients moves and we don’t know about it, it gives you other options to try to stay in touch any way we possibly can.

DAVID JEROME:
Yes, absolutely.

JAYE LINDSAY:
It’s funny because Rick was talking earlier about how we always try to … I think maybe you were mentioning this too, always want to do our own first meeting with a client. It kind of reminded me of a little situation I had about eight, nine years ago. I went to a doctor’s office. I had this really nasty rash at this side of my arm, and I couldn’t figure out why it wouldn’t go away. It just itched like crazy. So, I went to a local doctor’s office, and I sat there for probably about 20, 30 minutes. I go through triage. The nurse looks at it. She thinks she might have an idea, tells me, “Well, let me call on this PA.”

JAYE LINDSAY:
The PA comes in and takes a look at it. By the time a doctor finally saw me, I’ve been there for about two hours. I was pretty irritated. The doctor walked right in and says, “Oh, yeah, I know what that is. You have an allergic reaction. I’ll give you a medication.” It was like poison Sumac or something I had gotten into, and for whatever reason, the other two individuals didn’t recognize it right on sight. The doctor had a lot of experience. He’d seen poison Sumac probably a thousand times mostly on kids, I’m sure, messing around in wood piles and backyards. Had I met with that doctor immediately when I first came in, that would have been a five-second doctor’s appointment with a prescription, and I could’ve saved a lot of heartache and time sitting around wondering.

JAYE LINDSAY:
It’s the same thing with clients. A lot of times, that first meeting, we can resolve a lot of anxiety. A person’s going through a lot of stress, they’re going through what might be the most horrible thing that’s happened to them in their entire life, and the questions are a flurry of questions. A lot of times about half of those questions, we can knock them right out in the first meeting and say, “Oh, that’s an easy one. Let’s put that to rest. You don’t have to worry about that. Yeah, you might have to worry about this other thing, but we can address that separately.”

JAYE LINDSAY:
Sometimes, clients leave that first meeting just with a sense of relief knowing that, “I just got a lot of answers.” That’s kind of why I don’t like having somebody go meet with a client who’s not an attorney because the person leaves that meeting still stressed out and nervous, still wanting to talk to a lawyer.

DAVID JEROME:
There’s also the danger associated with that too.

JAYE LINDSAY:
Sure.

DAVID JEROME:
I know whenever I’ve met with clients, there’s been times when it begins as a worker’s compensation case, but then you can identify a personal injury case, a medical malpractice case, a product liability case, or maybe even a wrongful discharge or some type of of potential wrongful discharge that could be in the works that we can stop if we can identify that as being an issue early on, and so that’s why it is so crucial that we meet with the clients to address all of these issues and look at all of the potential problems because if you don’t and you miss them, well, that could be catastrophic, or more importantly, you may miss a potential cause of action for your client, and I don’t ever ever want to do that. That to me would be-

JAYE LINDSAY:
That’s right.

RICK SALMI:
It seems like-

JAYE LINDSAY:
That’s important.

RICK SALMI:
Yeah, it seems to me that there are two really important features whenever we’re talking about communicating with clients. One, whenever I meet with a client, I want to make sure that I try to explain things in terms that are as accessible as possible. I know lawyers tend to talk like lawyers sometimes, and I think we lose people a lot of times, so we try to make sure that we’re relating to the clients.

RICK SALMI:
The second part, and I think it kind of ties in with everything else we’ve talked about, is we have to listen. I think that’s probably why having those meetings are so critical. We can listen and kind of help allay some of those fears and really help those folks understand kind of what we’re looking at and how we can help them.

DAVID JEROME:
To me, that’s my favorite line. Whenever I’m done with the initial meeting and they’ll say, “Huh, you’ve taken such a load off my mind,” I’m thinking, “All right, I did my job.”

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