Most people charged with a crime exercise their Sixth Amendment right to counsel. While represented, they may reach out to their criminal defense attorney for a variety of reasons. A common misconception is that once you hire an attorney, you will have 24/7 immediate access to your criminal defense attorney – this is not the case for the overwhelming majority of criminal defense attorneys. There are a number of reasons why your attorney may be unavailable (discussed below). The aim of this blog is to provide some guidance regarding appropriate communication with your attorney, specifically as it relates to reasons why your attorney might not be available to speak immediately upon calling them.
Contact them during their business hours
It is appropriate to facilitate communication with your attorney during their set business hours. In the modern age, you can typically find a criminal defense law firm’s hours of operation on Google. Communication with your attorney includes emails. As such, although you may choose to send them an email outside of business hours, it is generally unreasonable to expect your attorney to respond to an email afterhours. Sometimes they will respond as a courtesy, but this is not because they are obligated to do so. You may not have access to your criminal defense attorney after hours – as with any other job, it is customary for attorneys to be “off the clock” at times.
Methods of communication and scheduling an appointment
In many cases, it will be most appropriate to set up an appointment to speak with your attorney. In other cases, it will be more appropriate to email them. Many times, it will be most appropriate to instead speak with a representative of your attorneys, such as a legal assistant, paralegal, or receptionist. In such cases, access to your criminal defense attorney will be obtained through support stall.
Reasons attorney may be unavailable
Below, we have listed some common reasons why your attorney might not have immediate access to your criminal defense attorney:
- They are in court (an attorney might be in court all day)
- They are at the jail
- They are attending a meeting
- They are tending to other client(s)
- They are attending a CLE (continuing legal education)
- They are attending training/conference/etc.
- They are driving to court to attend your court date
- They are tending to other tasks necessary to the operation of their law firm
- They have been forced to set certain professional boundaries
- There is a perfectly capable assistant/paralegal/receptionist that is ready, willing, and able to assist but caller refuses to allow them to help and instead insists on speaking directly with unavailable attorney
- The caller is calling/emailing/etc. an unreasonable amount
- It is after hours (evenings or weekends, for example)
- They are eating lunch
- They are sick
- They are in the hospital
- They got into a car accident
- They are at a medical appointment
- They are tending to their health and/or wellbeing
- They have lost a loved one
- They are caring for a child/pet/spouse/parent/friend/loved one
- They had an emergency with their child
- They are having complications related to COVID-19 isolation/quarantine/exposure
- They are taking a vacation, a day off, or an hour off
- They have suffered some kind of personal emergency/crisis/tragedy
- You refused to leave a message
- You are not using the primary/preferred method of communication that your attorney has asked you to use
- The attorney does not represent you
Allow time for attorney to respond to your request for communication
Regardless of the reason why your attorney is unavailable, it is appropriate to give time for them to respond. People often except a call back within the hour, but this is not usually possibly due to the fact that your attorney has many other clients, court appearances, and obligations that he must tend to. When contacting a law firm (or any business, for that matter), it is generally accepted that you must give a reasonable amount of time for a person to address your message.
Have you allowed support staff to assist you?
Depending upon the law firm, in most cases in which you cannot get ahold of your attorney after a reasonable amount of time, you will be able to get ahold of a representative of that law firm. If you are able to speak with a representative of your attorney’s law firm but are not satisfied with speaking to said representative because you would prefer to speak directly with the attorney, you might be waiting a while.