Is My Lawyer My Friend?
June 27, 2017
Traveling the road of any legal case is a journey into the unknown for most people. It can be filled with hardship, confusion, and emotional strain. It is natural for a person to desire support. It is also natural to feel inclined to lean upon those with the most intimate knowledge of a case. This can often lead to individuals becoming a bit confused as to the nature of their lawyer/client relations. Although an attorney may have very intimate knowledge regarding the details of the life of those they represent, although an attorney may act aggressively in the best interest of their client, in the end, it is a professional relationship, not a friendship. Here are ethical guidelines to help a person define the right boundaries and maintain the right ethical relationship with their lawyer.
Duty: In the eyes of the law, duty is defined as a sacred trust between an attorney and client. This is for the protection of the party a lawyer represents. A person can tell their attorney anything. Often, a person confides their most personal secrets to a lawyer. But keep in mind that an attorney is a protector of your information, not your personal, intimate confidante. The purpose of this level of intimacy is not to provide you with emotional support. The purpose is to empower an attorney with all the information necessary to execute their duty of protecting your interests to the best of their ability. This is the foundation of attorney-client privilege, not attorney-client friendship.
Expectations: The expectations of true friendship do not define the attorney-client relationship. Although one might call their attorney in the middle of the night to report an event that just happened, this is not the same as a 3am call to a bestie, crying on a comforting shoulder about what is so troubling. The expectations that define an ethical attorney-client relationship are:
- Information on a client’s rights in a case
- Sound advice on a course of action
- Competent research on the cause of a case
- Realistic assessment as to outcome possibilities
- Ethical guidance as to acceptance of proposed offers
- Payment for services
It’s that last expectation that is the real tickler, one that clearly defines an attorney-client relationship as not a friendship. No matter how close a person may feel toward their lawyer, especially if a case has been a long-enduring battle, in the end, payment for services is due. Although a person may pick up the tab for a lunch date with a friend, a person is not actually paying for friendship.
A Client’s Duty: An attorney will also have expectations for a client. Here is the other side of this professional relationship coin:
- Prompt updates on any relevant events or changes in circumstance
- Respect for an attorney’s time demands for other clients
- No expectation of unethical or illegal action from an attorney
- Showing up on time for appointments
- Payment as agreed
Securing Representation: When a person is seeking legal representation, it’s important to be prepared for the initial meeting. This is not just a friendly chat to see if the two of you will get along. This meeting involves an attorney evaluating the merits of a case. Bring along relevant documents like police reports, photos, medical records and bills. Expect to discuss a fee schedule and get this information in writing. Different types of cases have different types of fee schedules that apply. For example, a worker’s compensation case may have fees that are set and established by statutory law. A personal injury case may be accepted on the basis of a contingency fee. Once a lawyer accepts a case, the attorney is then bound by certain ethics. Ethical conduct is the sign of a professional relationship, not a friendship.
In conclusion, like a friend, an attorney pursues the best interest of a client. However, in the end, once a case is resolved, an attorney-client relationship ends. Considering the emotional toll a person can experience throughout the course of a suit, it is important to partner with a legal representative who practices the strongest professional ethics while also aggressively pursuing your best interests. Contact us for a free consultation with an experienced legal team who delivers what you deserve, the very best.