Client Rights... And Responsibilities
An agreement is never one-sided. In order to have a good working relationship with your attorney, please consider your Rights — and your Responsibilities…
As an attorney in the States of California and Washington, I am governed by professional ethics spelled out in the Rules of Professional Conduct.
• I must represent you ethically, zealously and within the bounds of the law.
• I must competently analyze legal issues and exercise knowledge of the law applicable to your case.
• I must communicate with you in a timely and effective manner.
• I owe you a duty of loyalty. I can’t simultaneously represent you and another client with legal interests that conflict with yours. An example of an obvious conflict would be representation of both the landlord and the tenant in an eviction action.
• For so long as I continue to represent you, I am required to follow your directions in handling your case unless those directions are illegal.
• I must keep your personal property separate from my own property, and must keep your money in an escrow account. Any time you demand it, I must return your money or property.
• Except in rare circumstances, your lawyer is required to keep client confidences confidential.
• Unless I first obtain your informed written consent, I am prohibited from taking on representation that is adverse to your interests.
If I, or any other attorney, fails to abide by these rules, he or she can be disciplined by the Bar Association of which he or she is a member. It’s possible the lawyer may even be disbarred for serious violations. Criminal prosecution is also a possibility. And a failure to comply with the rules may be the basis for a malpractice action.
Are our discussions confidential?
• Yes. When you speak with me about a legal matter, our communications are privileged. This means that subject to some very limited exceptions, and unless you give permission, your attorney can’t disclose any information you provide to a third party.
What responsibilities do you owe your attorney?
Much of your responsibilities are addressed in the agreement we sign at our initial meeting. By signing the agreement, you are contractually bound to abide by them. Such duties and responsibilities typically include:
• Being truthful with me.
• Being cooperative with and responsive to me.
• Being available to me and attending legal proceedings, as requested.
• Paying your legal bills in a timely manner (for non-contingency cases).
These duties and responsibilities are pretty straight-forward, so they may be implied even without a retainer agreement that expressly reduces them to writing. Regardless, a failure to abide by them may result in termination of the attorney-client relationship.