Myth: Lawyers Have No Regard for Ethics.
The legal profession has gotten a bad rap over the years, and not altogether unwarranted. Attorneys are seen as unethical, insensitive, money-loving, grudge-holding egotists, who love nothing more than to run over anyone in their path.
While this may be an overstatement (or, maybe not) I think it’s safe to say that many people do not love attorneys.
Rest assured, however, that an Ethical Code of Conduct does exist in order to practice law. In fact Texas requires a specific ethics exam test be taken (and passed) before an attorney may be licensed to practice law.
Admittedly, attorneys are most often disbarred for not following this Code of Conduct; but for the majority of attorneys out there, this is our creed and our promise to our clients. So, how does this Code of Conduct affect you, the client?
Attorneys Cannot Lie For Clients
An honest attorney?! No, that’s not an oxymoron. In representing a client’s interests, an attorney shall not knowingly make a false statement of material fact or law to a third person; or fail to disclose a material fact to a third person when disclosure is necessary to avoid making the lawyer a party to a criminal act or knowingly assisting a fraudulent act perpetrated by a client.
An attorney’s word is his/her bond, so don’t expect your attorney to trade his/her honor and integrity to help you win your case or gain some advantage.
The Client is Always Right – Well…Sort of
You have hired an attorney for a reason – they have more experience dealing with your situation than you do and you need help. You have turned to them for advice, and rightly so. An attorney is there to guide you through a complicated legal process and advise you on what your options are.
A good attorney will explain what is happening, what the client’s options are in the situation, and give the client their best professional opinion on how to proceed. The attorney should then sit back and let the client make an informed decision. The attorney’s job is not to tell the client what to do and when to do it, but to allow the client to navigate the fuzzy waters with their guidance.
No Free Legal Advice
This doesn’t mean you have to pay money to answer every simple question. What it does mean, is that a lawyer may not give legal advice to an individual until an Attorney-Client relationship has been established.
Merely calling an Attorney’s office and speaking to someone on the phone does not create this special relationship. In most cases, paperwork will be signed and money will be exchanged to ensure that all parties know that a relationship has begun. Until there has been a clear indication that an attorney-client relationship has been created, an attorney cannot advise you on how to proceed with your case and cannot work on your case for you.
Further, there are many members of an attorney’s office who are not licensed attorneys; such as secretaries, paralegals, and interns. These individuals are very smart and in most cases know as much about the law as the attorneys (if not more). However, under no circumstances may these individuals give legal advice to clients or potential clients. The unauthorized practice of law is strictly prohibited in the U.S.
Confidentiality – Mostly
Under Rule 1.5 of the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct provided by the Texas Supreme Court, a lawyer shall not knowingly reveal confidential information of a client or a former client to a person that the client has instructed is not to receive the information; or anyone else, other than the client, the client’s representatives, or the members, associates, or employees of the lawyer’s law firm.
While this is the general standard, several exceptions apply. For example, if the lawyer has confidential information that clearly shows the client will commit a criminal or fraudulent act that is likely to result in death or substantial bodily harm to a person, a lawyer must disclose confidential client information to the extent necessary to prevent death or substantial bodily harm.
Unless one of the exceptions set out in Rule 1.5 applies, all communications between an attorney and client is confidential. This includes any information given to attorneys before the attorney-client relationship is even formed. This information is protected even in court, meaning an attorney may not be called as a witness to testify to information you told them. So rest assured that your secrets are safe in your attorney’s hands.
HOWEVER, just because you tell your attorney something, this doesn’t mean that it is automatically privileged. If you tell your attorney your dirty secrets, and then you go blabbing about them on Facebook or to your friends/family, then you could waive this privilege.
That Can’t Be It
These are clearly not all the rules and cover only a small portion of the ethical code pertaining to attorneys. For more information please read the remaining Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, or consult an attorney with any questions you may have. These rules were put in place for you, the client, and your protection. As mentioned above, attorneys may not have the best image, but hopefully by educating our clients and the public on the rules and their implications we can change that perception, one client at a time.
–Authored by Kayla R. Wimberley, Esq.,
Matthew Harris Law, PLLC – Civil Litigation Division
1001 Main Street, Suite 200, Lubbock, Texas, 79401-3309
Tel: (806) 702-4852 | Fax: (800) 985-9479