What Rights Does a Client Have?
When you enter into a relationship with an attorney, a “fiduciary duty” is created. This means that the attorney must act solely with your best interests in mind. An attorney’s duties are outlined in the California Rules of Professional Conduct, and these duties and obligations give rise to certain rights to which you, as the client, are entitled.
- You have the right to be treated decently and respectfully. Throughout your relationship with your attorney, your attorney and all staff members should be courteous, prompt and professional. Your attorney’s staff should be adequately trained and qualified through education and experience to perform necessary services on your behalf.
- You have the right to have your attorney’s fee fully explained to you. Whether your attorney charges by the hour or on a “contingency” basis, you have the right to have the Engagement Agreement explained to you in plain English. You have the right to be charged a reasonable fee; it is unethical for your attorney to charge an unconscionable fee. You should understand how you will be charged, who will be working on your case and if you will be responsible for paying “costs'” (out-of-pocket expenses associated with your case). You have the right to request pre-approval of any large costs or expenses. You have the right to know who is working on your case and if you will be charged for the time paralegals or other staff members spend on your case. You have the right to know if your lawyer is sharing a fee with another lawyer, i.e. the attorney who may have referred your case to your current attorney.You have the right to request periodic statements of your account. Any retainer or funds paid to your attorney early on in your case, or later recovered in your case, must be held separately from the attorney’s own funds in a “client trust account.”
- You have the right to know if your attorney does not carry professional liability insurance. Attorneys are not required to maintain malpractice insurance. If your attorney does not have malpractice insurance, his/her Engagement Agreement should say so.
- You have the right to be kept informed. This means that your attorney must keep you reasonably informed regarding developments in your case. The information you receive should be sufficient to allow you to participate in the decisions affecting your case. You have the right to be informed of any written settlement offer or demand received in your case. You have the right to be fully informed of the terms of the settlement, the financial breakdown of any settlement and how and whether the settlement meets your goals.
- You have the right to participate in formal and informal dispute resolution. If your attorney is negotiating on your behalf, you have a right to participate in those negotiations, and whether you are offering or receiving a settlement proposal, you have the right to accept or reject any settlement proposal. You also have the right to be advised about alternative dispute resolution processes, like mediation and arbitration.
- You have the right to ask questions.You hired your lawyer to represent your interests in a legal proceeding. If at anytime you do not understand your rights or the legal process, you have the right to ask questions. You have the right to ask questions, at any time, regarding the status of your case. You have the right to have your questions answered promptly, sufficiently and honestly.
- You have the right to seek and obtain advice from your lawyer. One of the important things that separates attorneys from lay people is their right and duty to give legal advice. Lawyers have gone to school and obtained their license for the primary purpose of giving clients their honest and best legal advice. You are paying for that advice, so you have the right to expect to receive it. Ask and you shall receive.
- You have the right to have your legal rights and options explained to you in plain English. Throughout the course of any legal proceeding, you have obligations, opportunities and options. You have legal and constitutional rights designed to protect you. You have the right to be fully informed of these rights. Additionally, you have the right to be fully informed of the pros and cons associated with your options and how the exercise of these options will affect you and/or your case. You also have the right to expect your attorney to advise you of your obligations related to your matter.
- You have the right to have your objectives honored. Throughout your matter, regardless of its nature, you have the right to participate in the decisions that are made which will affect your case. When you express a goal or objective, you have the right to have that goal or objective honored by your attorney.
- You have the right to the undivided loyalty of your attorney. Because your attorney represents you in a “fiduciary” capacity, he/she owes you a duty of undivided loyalty. Your attorney cannot ethically represent another party or individual whose interests may conflict with yours. Additionally, your attorney cannot gain an interest in your case which is adverse to yours. You have the right to your attorney’s full independent judgment at all times. A person cannot serve two masters.
- You have the right to have your information kept confidential. With very limited exceptions, everything you tell your attorney is confidential. Your attorney cannot repeat or disclose any of your confidential information to anyone without your consent. The attorney-client privilege protecting all communications is a sacred, time-honored privilege that must be observed at all costs.
- You have the right to terminate your attorney. If at anytime you are dissatisfied with your attorney’s performance or you feel your rights as a client have been violated, you have the right to terminate your attorney. Once you terminate your attorney, you have the right to request your entire file, and your attorney is required to promptly turn it over at no cost to you. Even after your attorney’s representation of you has ended, he/she continues to owe you fiduciary obligations and cannot take any action which would be detrimental to your interests.
If you have a concern or grievance regarding your attorney, we would be pleased to discuss your situation.