OSB Professional Liability Fund

How to Prevent Losing Track of Your Client

January 24, 2020
by Sheila Blackford

“We sent a letter to our client regarding settlement and it was returned with no forwarding address.”
“I am trying to close my trust account and I still have $500 belonging to a client I can’t find.”
I have a court hearing in ten days and my client’s cell phone has no voice mail box set up.”
“My client no longer works for the employer he gave us.”
"My client was deported."

“Help! I don’t know how to find my client!”
 
There is little you can do on short notice. But here are some ideas for you to consider:

  • Review your client intake form for emergency contact information.
  • Review the client file for any updated email and mailing addresses or telephone numbers.
  • If the client had a former name or used another name, search those names.
  • Check if you can find the client on social media sites.
  • Hire an investigative service, such as Martin Investigative Services, whose private investigators are former federal agents and charges a flat rate.
  • Drive over to the last known address of your client.
  • See the Oregon State Bar’s website for handling unclaimed funds in your trust account: Unclaimed Client Funds Appropriated to OSB for Legal Services to the Poor.
Looking ahead to avoid future problems, here are some ideas and resources:
  • OSB Bar Counsel Article, “The Ethics of Unclaimed Lawyer Trust Account Funds,” by Amber Hollister, OSB Bulletin, May 2019.
  • Use the PLF Practice Aid New Client Information Sheet” or “New Client Information Sheet with Disclaimer.” Note: they are easily customized for your specific client information.
  • Include language on your engagement letter and fee agreements that say: “My attorney agrees to provide conscientious, competent, and diligent services, and I agree to cooperate with my attorney and others working on my case by keeping appointments, appearing for depositions, producing documents, attending scheduled court appearances, and making all payments required under this agreement. I also agree to keep my attorney informed of any change of address or telephone number within five days of the change.” Or use the PLF Practice Aid “Engagement Letters and Fee Agreements.” Note: they are easily customized for your specific client information.
  •  Be sure to contact each client every 30 – 60 days. A status update and upcoming timeline keeps your client informed and on track with you. Use the PLF Practice aid “Client Status Report.”
  • When you initially meet with your new client, provide a timeline of important events that will happen in your client’s case. As these dates become known, send the revised timeline to your client with a request for the client to sign acknowledgement and understanding of the updated timeline.
  • Give your clients a client file in which you have included the engagement letter and fee agreement, and a roadmap of the case with timeline. Provide paper for the client to write down questions to discuss with you. Provide copies of correspondence and pleadings stamped, “For Your Client File. No Action Needed.” Have your client bring the client folder to your client meetings and continue to stress the need for being updated on contact information, upcoming travel, and times of unavailability.
Maintaining ongoing contact with your client is the best way to avoid this problem.