Professional Responsibility and Ethics

If you’re facing legal trouble, you likely want to consult a lawyer for help understanding your options or making your case in court. In order for your lawyer to best help you, you’ll usually need to tell them a lot of sensitive, private information. As a result, you could be tempted to keep certain things to yourself if you’re afraid to share certain secrets.

Withholding information can make it harder for an attorney to best protect your interests, however. To help people who need legal counsel feel more comfortable, lawyers must follow a collection of ethical rules of professional responsibility. A lawyer who breaks these rules could face serious consequences, including losing their license to even practice law again, so many take these obligations and responsibilities very seriously.

What are a Lawyer’s Rules for Confidentiality?

One of the biggest and most well-known rules of attorney professional responsibility is the duty of confidentiality. In nearly all cases, a lawyer is forbidden from revealing any information about their clients without the clients’ permission, even after the cases are closed. There’s no passage of time that allows an attorney to divulge protected information to anyone.

This rule can even extend to non-clients. If you go in to see an attorney for a legal consultation but decide not to hire them for your case, they’ll almost always be bound to the same confidentiality rules.

There are a couple of times a lawyer may break confidentiality:

  • If they believe you are about to commit a significant crime, like physically hurting or killing someone, or committing fraud that could seriously hurt someone financially
  • If a court orders it
  • If the disclosure is necessary to provide you with the best legal counsel, such as consulting with another attorney who specializes in an element of your case

If you’re unsure if information you want to share would be considered protected, ask your attorney what kind of information they must or may reveal. In general, you should expect to tell your lawyer everything about your situation, even if you were guilty of a crime. This helps your attorney figure out the best way to defend you and prevents them from being surprised by information the other side presents at trial.

What are the Conflict of Interest Rules for a Lawyer?

Your lawyer typically can’t work with any other clients involved in your case. If you’re suing someone, your lawyer can’t consult with the other party. If you’re getting a divorce, your lawyer can’t represent both you and your spouse.

In some cases, your attorney may be able to represent someone against you, so long as it’s not the same case they’re working on for you. Additionally, the lawyer must genuinely believe they can fairly counsel the other party, and you and the other person must agree, in writing, that the lawyer can represent them.

Does My Lawyer Have to Do What I Tell Them To?

Lawyers often have to abide by their clients’ requests. They may suggest certain strategies or actions to you, but ultimately, you’ll have most of the final say. For example, if your lawyer suggests you take a plea deal but you want to go to trial, they’ll need to take your case to trial. If they think you should go to court for your lawsuit but you’d rather settle, your attorney will need to adhere to the settlement you agreed upon.

An exception here is, understandably, if you’re asking them to help you commit a crime. You can’t tell a lawyer to destroy evidence for your case, for example.

Can My Lawyer Drop Me as a Client?

In some cases, your lawyer may be able to drop you as a client or withdraw from your case, but there are only certain times this is acceptable. If it won’t hurt your case for your lawyer to withdraw, they may be able to leave your case.

Your lawyer could also end the attorney-client relationship if you refuse to pay your bills to them, but they’ll have to warn you that they will terminate representation for nonpayment before they actually do. This should give you time to get caught up before they leave your case.

A lawyer could also withdraw from representing you if you try to use them to help you commit a crime, or if your case becomes unreasonably difficult because you refuse to share any information about it with your attorney.

Before they leave your case, your lawyer may need to get permission from the court. They’ll also need to give you ample notice that they’re withdrawing and give important information about your case to your new representation.

Finding a Lawyer You Trust

It’s important to find a lawyer you can trust. If you need legal advice or representation, ask friends and family members for recommendations. Read online reviews, and search for lawyers in your area who specialize in the kinds of law related to your case. You should also work out an attorney’s fees before you agree to work with them so you can find someone who fits in with your budget.

Legal issues can be stressful and complicated. Working with an experienced lawyer can help you build a more solid case that could get you the kind of outcome you’re looking for. Fortunately, there are many rules that govern how a lawyer can conduct themselves with their client, in the courtroom, or during an investigation into a case.

Speak to an Experienced Ethics Attorney Today

This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified ethics lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local ethics attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.

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