CAFL Practice Tip of the Month – November 2015

Advisory regarding contact with young adult clients

The Children and Family Law Division has not yet promulgated specific Performance Standards for representing Young Adults (aged 18-22) who have signed themselves into DCF care.  Many attorneys have asked whether they are required to continue meeting their young adult clients in person each quarter; they are not.  We expect attorneys will use their own judgment to determine the frequency and types of communications that will allow them to provide zealous advocacy for these clients. The foundation for an effective working relationship with a client is good and regular communication.  Rule 1.4(a) of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct requires that counsel “keep a client reasonably informed about the status of a matter and promptly comply with reasonable requests for information.  Mass.R.Prof.C.1.4(b).  Similarly, the CAFL Performance Standards require that counsel “maintain sufficient contact with the client to establish and maintain an attorney-client relationship that will enable counsel to keep abreast of the client’s interests and needs and of the client’s position in the action.”  CAFL Perf. Std. 1.5.  Further, counsel is required to inform the client of all court hearings (including permanency hearings) and administrative proceedings and inform the client of his or her right to attend.  If the client wishes to attend, counsel should make efforts to ensure the client’s attendance.  CAFL Perf. Std. 1.5(c). The frequency and types of communication necessary to meet these obligations will vary depending on the young adult’s situation, abilities, and needs.  An 18 year old who is having a difficult time staying in school and is under threat of DCF revoking its care may need to be seen quarterly; while a 19 year old high school student who has been doing well and living in the same foster home for years may need only a semi-annual visit. In order to maintain effective communication with a young adult client, it is incumbent upon us to consider the client’s preferences and access to different forms of communication.  Although in-person meetings are generally preferred, scheduling meetings with these clients may be difficult.  Regular phone calls, text messaging or e-mails may be the most appropriate or effective form of communication.  It is important to recognize that these clients are adults and should be treated with the same respect accorded other adult clients.  However, because they are not fully developed adults, we should reach out to them with some frequency, acknowledging that many of them do not have the skills or foresight to reach out to us and may not be particularly good advocates for themselves.  Without regular contact, counsel may learn of events too late to effectively challenge DCF’s decisions.