Attorney should be a trusted advisor
Every client wants and deserves a passionate attorney and every attorney should strive to be just that. However, the attorney’s representation is always subject to the Rules of Professional Conduct that imposes limits and draws distinct lines in the sand which the attorney should never cross in order to satisfy the client.
The attorney should never forget their role as an advisor to their client. The advice given to the client should always be candid, regardless of if the likely legal scenario is disfavored by the client and if presenting such an unfavorable outcome would discourage the client from retaining the attorney. The legal advice should always be based on the attorney’s independent professional judgement, but the attorney should also consider moral, economic, social, and political factors that may be pertinent to the client’s situation. Sometimes, retaining another professional, such as an economic or medical expert for instance, might be necessary to comprehensively address the client’s situation. This honest advice is one of the fundamental blocks that create a successful attorney-client relationship.
As an example, a lawsuit is not always justified. We live in a society eager to threaten or to commence legal action under any circumstance. While the client’s emotions might run high and the desire for legal recourse is pressing, the attorney should steadfastly remain the voice of reason and serve the client by offering reasonable counsel. The attorney, of course, should use the law for the client’s benefit, but should not bring or defend a case or even raise an issue or argument in a case unless there is a sufficient basis in law and fact for doing so. The law sets the boundaries within which the attorney may act and despite the law’s ambiguities, frivolous and bad faith actions and arguments are prohibited.
Once a lawsuit commences, it is the duty of the attorney to make reasonable efforts to expedite litigation consistently with the client’s best interests set forth. Frustrating the opposing party and their counsel, achieving financial benefits, or excessively accommodating personal conflicts are not reasonable justifications. However, an attorney granting a reasonable request for a continuance, if not to their own client’s disadvantage, is allowed and exhibits necessary professional courtesy. Similarly, if an attorney has knowledge of who the opposing counsel is, then that attorney should not cause a default or dismissal without first attempting to contact the opposing counsel. Any tactics that cause delay only hinder the administration of justice and disrespect the practice of law.
When a matter is pending, an attorney should refrain from making public statements that are likely to be disseminated by means of public communication and which will result in creating a significantly prejudicial effect. Such statements addressing the credibility of a witness, the results of testing, or the admissions of guilt or innocence are likely to have a strong effect on the public’s perception. That is not to say that an attorney cannot speak about the case. The public’s right to information as well as invaluable informed input is recognized by the Rules. The claim, the crime or defense, as well as the identity of the persons involved can often be revealed along with any information contained in the public record. The attorney can also warn the public or request the assistance from the public in obtaining necessary evidence and information and the attorney can respond to any recent unwanted publicity marred by the substantial undue prejudicial effect.
In summary, an attorney should use every available legal skill and professional tool to assist the client and further the client’s case. But it all should be done ethically.
Natalia Vander Laan is a Minden attorney practicing estate planning, family law, and workers’ compensation.