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Your Lawyer: A User's Guide

by Lawrence J. Fox and Susan R. Martyn
The typical American buys goods and services from hundreds of different vendors. Think of a typical week and you will interact with dozens - getting a haircut, buying groceries, washing your car, taking out a loan, filling a cavity, getting gas, parking, making car payments - the list is endless. What makes your dealings with a lawyer so different or special? It is not that the lawyer is a privileged character worthy of special awe and respect; rather it is the reverse. In your dealings with a lawyer, it is you, the client, who is entitled to receive special treatment. Your lawyer is only special because the lawyer has special responsibilities to you.

Your lawyer owes you a fiduciary duty. That is a 10-dollar phrase that means that your lawyer must put your interests ahead of hers. This does not mean your lawyer may not charge for her services; but if she does charge, the fee must be reasonable, not whatever the traffic will bear. It does not mean that you are the lawyer's only client. But if your lawyer takes on other clients, she must assure you that your interests are not compromised by her commitment to another client, a former client or his own self-interest.

It does mean that your lawyer must provide you with the 4 Cs: communication, competence, confidentiality and conflict of interest resolution. Your lawyer must initiate communication with you to give you the opportunity to control the ongoing course of the representation. You are entitled to a competent lawyer who can guide you through the maze of unfamiliar law you need to navigate. To offer competent advice, your lawyer must learn all she can about the matter and therefore must keep your confidences, and not disclose those confidences to third parties or use them to your disadvantage. Finally, it does mean that your lawyer must be loyal and ever vigilant to other interests that might compromise her judgment on your behalf. This means that your lawyer must segregate and safeguard your property, and that your lawyer must act in your best interests, not her self-interest or the interests of any other person.


Communication: Your lawyer must explain:
  • Information you need to know
  • The fee
  • The scope of the representation, or what the lawyer intends to do for you
  • Any conflicts of interest
  • Competence: Your lawyer must:
  • Know the law and legal procedures
  • Prepare thoroughly
  • Follow-through promptly
  • Confidentiality: Your lawyer must protect all information relating to the representation
    Conflict of Interest Resolution: Your lawyer must:
  • Check for conflicts
  • Disclose any conflicts arising from interests of the lawyer, law firm, other clients or former clients of the firm
  • Obtain your consent to conflicts before proceed-ing.

  • Chapter 2: Finding a Lawyer »