Attorneys require diligence and zealousness
We have all watched courtroom dramas on TV. They are filled with long and moving orations, suddenly appearing evidence, and emotional decisions. In a real courtroom, however, an attorney rarely gets to be Paul Newman in The Verdict. And while the theatrics are not required, the diligence and zealousness are.
An attorney shall act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing the client. This means that the attorney must not procrastinate because any delay caused by the attorney may weaken the client’s confidence in their counsel and at the very least cause the client additional and unnecessary stress. In the worst-case scenario, a missed deadline can ultimately ruin a client’s case. Nevertheless, the attorney can consent to a reasonable request for an extension as a courtesy to the opposing party, so long as it will not negatively impact their own client.
Sometimes, a lack of diligence can simultaneously occur with a lack of communication. If the attorney does not do the required work, then there is nothing to communicate to the client. That said, just because a client may not hear from their attorney for a few days or even for a few weeks does not mean that the attorney is failing to diligently handle their case. In many cases, idle time can occur, such as between hearings and when waiting for a response from the opposing party or for a decision from the court. During such downtime, the attorney should notify their client as to why the delay and, if the client harbors any doubt, they should simply ask their attorney.
An attorney should diligently represent the client until all agreed upon matters have been concluded. If the attorney’s engagement is limited to a specific issue, then that engagement terminates when that issue has been resolved. If the outcome is unfavorable to the client, then the attorney should discuss the possibility of an appeal before terminating the representation. If the attorney assists the client with multiple issues, then the attorney should explain at what point each engagement concludes.
Every attorney should keep a manageable workload in order to pay appropriate attention to each client’s case. A client can expect their attorney to not procrastinate and to always communicate with them.
Zealous advocacy means that an attorney should take any lawful and ethical measures required to win their client’s case. The attorney must remain committed to their client’s case and should not allow any obstacles or personal inconveniences to interfere with their diligent and zealous representation of that client. Contrary to how it is portrayed in movies, zealous advocacy does not mean winning at any cost while utilizing derogatory tactics, but instead that the attorney should act with civility.
For example, in a contentious case, an attorney should not cause the case to go on too long by continuously filing motions if the sole purpose of those motions is to financially and emotionally harass and exhaust the opposing party. Such conduct could result in the depletion of even their own client’s financial resources. Further, it is unethical and could result in penalties. If, however, the client requests such tactics, the attorney should counsel the client about likely ramifications. Especially evidenced in family law cases, overzealous advocacy may win the case but ultimately ruin the family. For instance, a victory over a soon-to-be ex-spouse may damage or destroy any relationship a child has or would have with a parent.
An attorney must communicate with a client and choose a strategy that will help to achieve their client’s goals while always acting within the boundaries of the law and without unnecessarily harming the involved parties.
Natalia Vander Laan is a Minden attorney practicing estate planning, family law, and workers’ compensation.