Communication Makes Clients Happy

By: Craig S. Brodsky | 6.2.23 | Media

Happy clients do not complain to the Attorney Grievance Commission, fire lawyers, or pursue malpractice claims. The easiest way to make a client unhappy is not to communicate. Over the years, the failure to communicate is at the heart of many ethics matters I've handled.

The duty to communicate is rooted in Maryland Rule 19-301.4. The requirements are basic: Tell clients about the status of their matter; advise clients about potential ethical limitations that may apply to your representation; comply with reasonable requests for information; explain matters in a way that permits clients to make informed decisions about the representation.

MARPC 1.4 requires the communication be "prompt."

Keeping clients informed about a case is simple. Most lawyers have a basic system of sending an email, letter to clients, or calendar invites when courts set hearing or trial dates or issue scheduling orders. Many lawyers copy clients on communications with opposing counsel, the court, or the government. By definition, these communications inform clients of the status of a matter.

Other times, the rules and comments define items that must always be discussed with clients. These items include offers of plea bargains, settlement offers and jury trial demands. A wise lawyer will document that the conversation occurred along with the substance of the discussion.

In every AGC matter I've tried, when there is no documentation of a discussion between the lawyer and a client, the trial judge resolves the conflict in testimony in favor of the client. In other words, if you don't document it, the court usually will believe the client's version of events.

While Rule 1.4 leaves open many circumstances that require prompt communication, the central tenet is a client must be informed enough about the representation to make informed decisions.

>Indeed, Rule 1.4(a) requires lawyers to promptly inform clients of all decisions and circumstances that require the client's informed consent, just like a medical provider must obtain informed consent by discussing all material risks, benefits, and reasonable alternatives with a patient before surgery.

Informed consent, as defined by Rule 19-301.0(g), is the client's agreement after the attorney has communicated adequate information and explanation about the material risks of and reasonably available alternatives to the proposed course of conduct. I view it as an integral part of the process.

Your clients deserve a full explanation and the opportunity to ask questions before deciding what they might want.

Based on the cases and the ethics opinions, lawyers have been disciplined for failing to tell clients about a motion to dismiss, a dismissal of a case without prejudice, the status of discovery and a motion for sanctions, difficulties with service of process, a request from immigration for more information, or the status of a settlement payment.

Lawyers often end up in the disciplinary system for not telling clients about cases when they go bad.

Another common thread is Rule 1.4 violations are often part of the lawyer's larger failure to properly handle the case. Experience teaches that the failure to communicate is just part of an overall failure by the lawyer.

Unfortunately, it just happens to be the one which gets the client mad enough to call the AGC.

Craig Brodsky - Blog-HeadshotCraig Brodsky is a partner with Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann LLP in Baltimore. For over 25 years, he has represented attorneys in disciplinary cases and legal malpractice cases, and he has served as ethics counsel to numerous clients. His column in The Daily Record appears on the first Thursday of every month. He can be reached at

This article originally appeared in The Daily Record on June 1, 2023.  


Goodell DeVries defends various professionals in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia, including lawyers and law firms. Many of these cases are ethics matters involving Bar Counsel. If you have questions about the above or are a Maryland lawyer facing discipline, please contact us at