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Chapter 5: The Attorney-Client Relationship:
It might seem businesslike, but the attorney-client relationship is a special one. An attorney isn’t just another service provider – they’re a highly-educated partner with special legal responsibilities and duties to their clients.
Becoming a Lawyer
An attorney is defined by duty – to their clients and to the law. In order to practice legally, a lawyer must be admitted to the bar in the state in which he or she wishes to practice. This process involves graduating from law school, passing a lengthy bar exam, undergoing a background check to establish character, and taking an oath to uphold the law. Once a lawyer is allowed to practice, he or she enters into several obligations in relations to clients.
A Lawyer Has Responsibilities
A lawyer has a fiduciary duty to their clients, meaning that they must make sure there are no conflicts of interest between clients and that their fees are reasonable for services rendered. If it appears that there is a conflict of interest, either due to current clientele, past representation or other circumstances, a lawyer must divulge this conflict and obtain your consent before proceeding to represent you. A lawyer must always be upfront with you about fees, conflicts, the scope of their services, and the terms under which they will be performed.
In addition, a lawyer must be competent to represent you in court, a duty which involves extensive continuing education, preparation, and knowledge of the practices and procedures of the law in general and courts in particular. Most importantly of all, a lawyer must practice confidentiality. This means that your lawyer cannot discuss any communications between themselves and you, their client, with anyone else. The confidentiality obligation is also called the attorney-client privilege.
A Lawyer’s Responsibilities Are Defined by Law
Lawyers are bound to their legal duties by federal and state laws. Nearly every state has a law about professional responsibility. Such laws require lawyers to act ethically and to execute their duties with reasonable care and protection of their clients’ interests. In addition, most lawyers belong to bar associations and other professional organizations which govern their conduct.
If your lawyer has neglected his duties to you as a client, you have recourse through civil means and also through the local legal licensing authority. A good place to start is your local Bar Association. A lawyer can be disbarred, or prohibited to practice, if unethical or negligent conduct is proven.