An effective lawyer-client relationship is based on mutual trust and respect. To have this trust and respect, both client and lawyer need to understand each other’s roles and responsibilities. These roles are very different, but the are complementary to each other. Here is how we see it at Patriot Law.
The client’s role and responsibilities
The client is the person who makes the important decision that he or she requires a lawyer for some reason. The client hires the lawyer and gives the lawyer his or her instructions. For example, the lawyer may be hired (or, as lawyers sometimes say, “retained”) to represent the client in a real estate transaction as buyer or seller, or a court case, or preparing a Will.
The client’s role is to make all of the important decisions in a legal matter. For example, it is the client’s role to:
- decide whether to enter into a contract (or to breach a contract, for that matter);
- decide who to name as executor of the client’s Will;
- decide whether to commence divorce proceedings;
- decide whether to start a lawsuit, or defend against a lawsuit in which the client is named as a defendant; and
- decide whether to settle a lawsuit, and on what terms.
In working with a lawyer, the client is responsible to do two major things:
- make the key decisions (such as those noted above) when required; and
- provide the lawyer with the information (and records) necessary to understand the facts applicable to the legal matter.
The lawyer’s role and responsibilities
The lawyer brings to the table legal knowledge and expertise that the client does not have have.
The lawyer’s role is to provide the client with two main things:
- Advice as to what law applies to the factual situation that the client brings forward, how that law applies to the client’s facts and what client should do to address the legal issue or problem; and
- If the client requests it, representing the client by taking certain actions on the client’s behalf. This may be representing the client in a court case, where the lawyer literally speaks on behalf of the client to the Judge. It can also mean taking a client’s wishes for how to deal with his or her estate and putting it on paper in a Will that will ensure that the client’s intent is achieved.
In working with a client, the lawyer is responsible for many things, including:
- being knowledgeable about the law (in the areas in which the lawyer practices, of course);
- being thorough and analytical in applying the law to the client’s factual situation;
- being practical is making recommendations on courses of action and the consequences of those courses of action; and
- being ethical and civil in dealing with the client as well as others such as an opposing party, the court and the public in general.
Synergy between lawyer and client
More than anything else, the key to having an effective relationship is for both lawyer and client to realize that their relationship is dynamic and requires open, effective and honest communication, The lawyer cannot do his or her best job unless the client is forthcoming about the facts, even if they may be unpleasant or embarrassing. On the other hand, the lawyer must help the client to understand what kinds of information or facts are important in a given case.
The best client-lawyer relationships are characterized by very effective communication. This creates the best conditions in which mutual trust and respect develop and are maintained.
There are limits on what a client can require a lawyer to do. This will be the topic of a future blog post.