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Your Lawyer: A User's Guide

by Lawrence J. Fox and Susan R. Martyn
In this part of the book, we begin by exploring some of the ethical and legal regulation that reminds lawyers of the special nature of the client-lawyer relationship. We also offer you tips on finding and paying a lawyer.

We know the jokes. The suggestions that "lawyers' ethics" is just another oxymoron like military justice. The fact is that because we serve clients, lawyers are required to abide by a rather elaborate code of conduct designed to protect client interests.

No lawyer in America may practice law until he or she has been admitted to the bars of one or more states or the District of Columbia. Historically and literally, "admitted to the bar" means that a lawyer has permission to appear in courts, on the side of the "bar" or rail nearest the judge. But today, bar admission also grants a lawyer permission to draft legal documents and give legal advice. Court appearances also have grown to include representing clients in arbitration, mediation, and other forms of alternative dispute resolution.

Each state and the District of Columbia controls its own bar admission, generally through the state's Supreme Court. And once a lawyer is admitted, each state also imposes ethical rules with which each lawyer must agree to comply, a code that, if violated, can result in the sanctioning - even the suspension or disbarment - of the offending lawyer.


Admission: A lawyer cannot offer legal services unless he or she is admitted to practice law in each state where he or she regularly practices. To be admitted to the bar, each lawyer must:
  • Graduate from a recognized law school
  • Pass a bar exam
  • Establish personal character through a lengthy background check, and
  • Take an oath.
  • Once admitted, each lawyer must follow that state's Rules of Professional Conduct. Each code regulates:
  • The client-lawyer relationship, including the 4 Cs: Competence, Communication, Confidentiality and Conflict of interest resolution
  • The lawyer's duties to the courts
  • How will you handle my situation?
  • The lawyer's duties to other third persons

  • But enough of dwelling on the potential downside of the profession. The purpose of this little volume is positive. It is to provide you with the information you should know about these ethical obligations of your lawyer. While this book is no substitute for informed conversation between your counsel and you (itself an ethical requirement), as one famous retailer observes, "An informed consumer is our best customer." The more clients know about these matters, the more likely clients' encounters with lawyers and our legal system will be rewarding ones. To encourage this communication, we provide you with "Questions to Ask" sidebars throughout this guide to help you get the lawyer and the legal representation you deserve.

    Chapter 1: What Makes the Client-Lawyer Relationship So Special? »