Lawyer-Client Relationship

Lawyer-Client Relationship in the United States

The interaction between an attorney and his or her client. The law- yer-client relationship is critical because the attorney represents the interests of another person. Clients depend on attorneys to make sound assessments and take appropriate action to safeguard their legal position. The ability of clients to make sure lawyers serve their interests varies. The one-time client, perhaps a criminal defendant, is in the least favorable position. Such a client is likely to have little legal knowledge and is in a poor position to evaluate a lawyer’s performance. In addition, the one-time client does not constitute a substantial part of the lawyer’s income and has little economic leverage. The corporate client, on the other hand, has greater control, especially the client who retains counsel on a long-term basis. Problems stemming from the lawyer-client relationship most often involve an attorney’s competency and ethics. These are matters covered in the performance standards adopted by each state and applicable to every practicing attorney in that state. These standards closely parallel the canons of conduct contained in the American Bar Association’s Code of Professional Responsibility.

See Also

Code of Professional Responsibility (Judicial Personnel issue).

Analysis and Relevance

The lawyer-client relationship directly affects lawyer performance. When clients delegate legal tasks to a lawyer, they expect competent performance. Licensure requirements that include completing law school and passing the bar examination are aimed at producing competent practitioners. Recognition of specialties through certification programs is also in place in many states. Canons of professional ethics also address competency and other representational issues. Lawyers are expected to exercise fully independent professional judgment on behalf of a client, and lawyers are directed to preserve the confidentiality of the attorney-client relationship. Attor- ney-client privilege is a rule of evidence that allows an attorney to refuse to testify about communications with a client. The lawyer-client relationship may also be affected by unethical or dishonest conduct by an attorney. In such a situation, a client may pursue a criminal complaint or bring a malpractice action against the lawyer. A client may also attempt to initiate sanctions available under processes adopted by state supreme courts. Following a hearing, disciplinary action may be taken by the state supreme court.

Notes and References

  1. Definition of Lawyer-Client Relationship from the American Law Dictionary, 1991, California






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