Legal Malpractice

Lawyers' & Clients' Responsibilities to Each Other

All lawyers are subject to strict standards of professional responsibility. These standards are set forth in codes of conduct and Privileges, ethics, rules of professional conduct that are established by state bar associations. Although the rules will vary from state to state.

Professional Responsibilities

Here are some basic ethical and professional rules your lawyer must follow. Your lawyer:

  • Must represent you ethically, zealously and within the bounds of the law
  • Must competently analyze legal issues and exercise knowledge of the law applicable to your case
  • Must communicate with you in a timely and effective manner
  • Must not create a conflict of interest 
  • Must follow your directions in handling your case unless they are illegal
  • Must keep your personal property separate from his or her own property, and must keep your money in an escrow account
  • Must return your money or property when requested 
  • Must keep client conversations confidential, except in specific and rare occasions 
  • Must not have a personal relationships with a client
  • Must not act against your best interests unless he or she first obtains your informed written consent
  • Must be loyal to you

Your attorney may have other responsibilities to you, depending on your case and the ethical rules that apply in your state.

If a lawyer fails to practice these rules, he or she can be disciplined by any bar association. 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.

Confidentiality of Conversations 

When you speak with an attorney about a legal matter, your communications with that attorney 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.

Your Role

First, review the retainer agreement that you may have signed when your hired your lawyer. Typically, these agreements will set out certain duties and responsibilities of the client. By signing the agreement, you're contractually bound by them. Such duties and responsibilities may include being:

  • Truthful with your lawyer
  • Cooperative with and responsive to your lawyer
  • Available to your lawyer and attending legal proceedings, as requested
  • On time with paying your legal bills in a timely manner

These duties and responsibilities may be implied even without a retainer agreement that expressly commits them to writing. Regardless, a failure follow them may result in a lawyer terminating the relationship.

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