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Your Lawyer: A User's Guide

by Lawrence J. Fox and Susan R. Martyn
Another core value of the client-lawyer relationship is your lawyer's commitment to be loyal to you. A client is entitled to rely on the fact that her lawyer will not be limited by commitments to others that would compromise her lawyer's ardor.

A. Conflicts of Interest

Loyalty sounds good but what's the reality? I just know you've got more exceptions.

Actually, I haven't. The first obligation of your lawyer in this regard is to search his heart and his database to make sure there are no conflicts.

What an odd combination.

Not really. Your lawyer's loyalty obligation begins with a search for those conflicts that might get in the way of total loyalty. In fact, your lawyer has several different duties that are designed to make him more effective by being independent to represent you.

You'll excuse me if I don't applaud quite yet.

Fair enough. One way your lawyer must be independent is that he has to assure you there are no other loyalties he has to others that will interfere with his ability to represent you effectively. Your lawyer's representation of you has to be independent of your lawyer's and your lawyer's law firm's loyalty to other clients, third parties or his own self-interest.

I like that kind of independence. There's more?

You'll like this one, too. As we discussed elsewhere, your lawyer has to maintain his independence from any third party who is paying his fees, whether it is the client's dad, employer or insurance company. So, if your lawyer has some personal reason why the representation might be fettered - he has a prejudice or a business interest that might materially reduce his ardor - that interest must be disclosed to you. Similarly, if your lawyer or any other lawyer in his practice - even if he is in a 1,000-person law firm - represents your adversary, your lawyer must first ask whether a reasonable lawyer could conclude that the other representation would not significantly interfere with representing you and, even if he so concludes, he must then (a) tell you about the matter, and (b) let you decide, after being fully informed of the circumstances, whether you will permit the representation to proceed nonetheless.

Meaning, can I live with it?

Exactly. It's entirely your decision. Does it bother you that someone else in the firm is doing work for your adversary? That's the question you must ask. At the same time your lawyer will have to tell the law firm's other client about the possible representation of you and determine if that client will consent to his firm representing you.

Chapter 8: What to Do If Something Goes Wrong »