Courtesy copying clients on emails

Fellow attorneys often ask me why I courtesy copy my clients on almost all emails. Evidently it is not a uniform practice. However there are three good reasons for doing so.

First, it helps one comply with Rule 1.4(a), specifically Rule 1.4(a)(3), of the South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct, which requires a lawyer to “keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the matter.” By allowing the client to be aware of communications regarding his or her case, one helps keep the client “ informed about the status of the matter.”

Second it allows the client to observe the work one is doing on the case and makes the client aware that the attorney is keeping abreast of the case. Clients who see that their attorney is copying him or her on every email, and is responding promptly to emails from other persons (opposing attorneys; guardians; experts; witnesses; judges; court clerks), are more likely to believe their attorney is working diligently on resolving their legal issues.

Finally, clients always want to know the progress of their case and frequently ask about case status. They rarely believe their attorney is keeping them fully informed. Observing the emails that their attorney is sending and receiving reduces client queries about case status and reduces their anxiety about their attorney not promptly informing them of important information.  As comment 4 to Rule 1.4 notes, “A lawyer’s regular communication with clients will minimize the occasions on which a client will need to request information concerning the representation.”

There are two times when I will not courtesy copy clients on emails. The first is when I want to suggest a potential compromise on contested issues to an opposing attorney but want to see if that attorney is willing to “sell” the proposal to his or her client before I suggest the proposal to my client. As part of resolving contested cases, I might consider proposals that I think are reasonable but that I know won’t thrill my client. It is better for my relationship with my client if I not suggest such proposals to him or her until I have reason to believe it will be acceptable to the other side. Few things are worse for attorney-client relations than convincing a client to compromise and make a proposal that is slightly disappointing to that client, only to have the other side reject it. However I like to put such proposals in writing (rather than phoning opposing counsel to discuss them) so that we don’t reach an “agreement in principle” only to see the agreement fall apart due to disputes on the actual language. Thus, in suggesting such proposals, I don’t inform the client until and unless I believe the opposing party will accept it, and thus don’t courtesy copy my client on the email to opposing counsel making that suggested proposal.

The second reason I might not courtesy copy my client on an email is when I believe the other attorney had made a fixable mistake that I expect him or her to correct. Since I expect that attorney to correct the mistake I like to put him or her on notice in writing. That way if the mistake isn’t corrected, I cannot subsequently be accused of sandbagging that attorney by not noting the mistake sooner. However there’s no good reason for my client to know that I believe the opposing attorney has made a mistake. Courtesy copying one’s client on such emails merely embarrasses opposing attorneys.

I’ve yet to have a client complain about my forwarding emails I receive from others on his or her case or being courtesy copied on email I send out. There’s rarely a good reason to not forward or courtesy copy clients on emails involving their case.

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