The attorney-client relationship is the bedrock of any legal case, and understanding what this relationship is can help both the attorney and the client complete their respective responsibilities. This blog will attempt to explain the nuances of this relationship.
What is The Attorney-Client Relationship?
Generally, an attorney-client relationship exists when a lawyer agrees to provide legal assistance, or does provide legal assistance, for someone seeking the lawyer’s expertise for a particular legal issue they are facing. This relationship does not require a retainer agreement or any contract to be signed. If the lawyer gives advice knowing the client will likely use it, and the client does believe it is legal advice to be relied on, the relationship has been formed. The relationship makes certain communications with your lawyer privileged. For the most part privileged communications cannot be divulged, even in court.
This definition is generally interpreted very broadly.
Taken literally this definition can apply to consultations, and it sometimes can. But generally, an attorney’s initial consultation is meant to determine whether they as a law office can take your case, and is not meant as a statement on the merits of your case itself. Generally, if a lawyer is not planning to take your case, they will not provide legal advice during a consultation, unless they believe your case to be truly unwinnable.
When Does The Attorney-Privilege Relationship Start?
While attorney-client privilege undoubtedly exists when an attorney client relationship exists, it also exists before the relationship’s existence. It generally exists when the client communicates with a lawyer regarding a legal issue and for some legal advice, the lawyer acts in their professional capacity, and the client intended said communications to be private.
Even if you are just initially meeting with a lawyer in his or her office, long before a solid relationship forms, your communications will likely be privileged. This should allow you to rest easy and tell a lawyer you are consulting with the facts of your case, good, bad or ugly.
What Does and Doesn’t Attorney-Client Privilege Cover?
Privilege does not cover every aspect of every communication the client has with their attorney. First, it generally only applies to communications the client reasonably intends to be private. So, discussing private legal matters loudly in public might void the privilege.
There are also a number of exceptions to attorney client privilege, some of which are listed below:
If a client admits they are intending to commit a crime, or fraudulent act, or admits they are intending to cover up a crime or fraud, such communication is not privileged, and the lawyer is free to divulge it, and a prosecutor could extract it.
Attorneys cannot hide evidence for clients. If the client gives the attorney evidence, they generally have to turn it in to the court.
Missing Persons Exception
In situations where the location of a missing person is disclosed to the lawyer, and that person is in danger, the attorney will likely have to disclose the location of the missing person to the authorities.
Death or Serious Bodily Injury Exception
If the client threatens to harm someone, the attorney generally has a duty to warn that person, and report the danger.
The Perjury Exception
Generally, a lawyer must disclose the testimony of any witness that the lawyer knows to be false. Such a requirement is not clear cut if when the client lies on the stand, or when they plan to lie. It is clear that the lawyer is required to do something to attempt to stop the client from lying. This could range from withdrawing from the case, to notifying the court of false testimony from the client. Nonetheless, the clients’ communications informing they perjured themselves is not privileged.
What is The Client’s Role or Responsibility in The Attorney-Client Relationship?
The client has responsibilities when it comes to working with an attorney. Without the client’s help, their case cannot be successful, even with the greatest attorneys out there. The client’s main duty will be providing their attorney with information and evidence. However, the client is also directly responsible for determining the general strategy of the litigation, and for accepting or not accepting all settlement offers.
With that being said, the attorney has the final say over most specific strategic elements regarding a court case, and they may be in the best position to make these decisions anyway, as they have the expertise regarding these issues. This is a further reason to make sure you choose an experienced, reliable, and trustworthy attorney.
The attorney-client relationship is the bedrock of our legal system, and it is beneficial to even have a simple understanding of its mechanics.
Bulluck Law Group has years of experience representing and understanding our client’s needs. We make sure to treat everyone like one of our own family members, and give them the trust and security they deserve during their time of crisis.
Bulluck Law Group’s large amount of trial experience allows us to fight for you, and to get you the justice you deserve. Contact us for a free consultation today.