The Client’s Duty to Communicate

We are all familiar with the ethical obligation to communicate with the client and keep the client reasonably informed.  But does the client have a duty to communicate with her lawyer?  It seems like common sense.  How can you as the agent accomplish the client’s objective if the client will not communicate with you?  Despite that, if the client does not achieve her objective, like most humans she naturally look for someone to blame other than herself.  The lawyer is often the first one blamed.

I’m not aware of Nevada case law specifically addressing this point.  But I did find Ake v. Mini Vacations the client sought to set aside an order dismissing her case for failure to prosecute.  The client blamed her lawyer but had her own “duty to monitor the progress of the case, communicate with her attorney, and to inquire of the Court as to the status of her case in the event she is unable to contact her attorney.”[1]  The motion to set aside was denied because the client did not meet that duty.

A factually similar situation arose in Breen v. LaHood where certain plaintiffs were dismissed from the case and later asked that the order be set aside.  “Plaintiffs are expected to use reasonable diligence in participating in litigation, and plaintiffs are expected to maintain communication with their counsel.”[2]  The dismissed plaintiffs had not used reasonable diligence, so the motion to set dismissal aside was denied.

I discuss this because as lawyers there is a limit to what we can do for the client.  We can’t verify interrogatories or give depositions for the client.  Our duty is typically limited to advising the client of her obligations and the potential detriments, but then abiding by the client’s directive to the extent permissible.  If the client is breaching her duty to communicate with you, then withdrawal might be the only solution in some circumstances.

[1] 174 F.R.D. 110, 112 (M.D. Fla. 1997).

[2] 597 F.Supp.2d 84, 88 (D.D.C. 2009).