Legal Representation

Author:Jeffrey Lehman, Shirelle Phelps

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The legal work that a licensed attorney performs on behalf of a client.

Licensed attorneys have the authority to represent persons in court proceedings and in other legal matters. When hiring an attorney, a careful consumer considers a number of variables, including the nature and importance of the case, the attorney's fee and payment arrangement, personal chemistry with the attorney, and the attorney's reputation.


If a case is simple, a person may wish to represent himself, or proceed pro se. The courts usually discourage self-representation because legal practice requires special skills, and an unschooled pro se party is usually at a disadvantage in court. Even attorneys are well advised to hire another attorney for personal legal problems.


Many attorneys advertise their services. Attorneys must obey all applicable advertising laws and must follow rules of professional conduct related to advertising. Under these rules they may not make false or misleading claims, create unjustified expectations, or compare the services of another attorney unless the comparison can be factually substantiated. An attorney may not make in-person or live telephone solicitations unless the attorney is related to the person or has a professional relationship with the person. An attorney may not contact an individual after he or she indicates a desire that the solicitations cease, and an attorney may not coerce or harass prospective clients. Aside from these and similar restrictions, attorneys generally are free to use the various media to promote their services.

Duties and Obligations

Legal representation places duties on both the client and the attorney. The client should provide the attorney with all information relevant to the case and keep the attorney apprised of new information. The client should be completely honest about the case with the attorney. The client also should follow the attorney's directives.

The client has an obligation to pay the attorney for the representation. If the client does not make timely payment, the attorney may decline to perform further work for the client. An attorney also may discontinue representation if the client wants the attorney to perform an unethical or illegal act, the client lies and refuses to correct the lie, the client makes representation unreasonably difficult, or the attorney discovers a conflict of interest.

Generally, a conflict of interest is any circumstance that adversely affects a client, or limits the loyalty of the attorney to a client. For example, assume that an attorney regularly represents a corporation. A new client seeks the attorney's representation in a suit against the same corporation. Representing the new client would be a conflict of interest. Generally, the attorney would not be able to take the case or continue representation after the conflict was

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discovered. However, the attorney may continue representation if he does not believe that the conflict would adversely affect the relationship with the corporation, and if both the corporation and the client agree to the attorney's representation. In practice, continued representation where there is a conflict of interest is rare.

If an attorney must withdraw from representation, he must act to protect the interests of the client. This may involve helping the client find another attorney, postponing court dates, and surrendering papers and documents relevant to the case. The attorney must return to the client any money owed to the client under the fee agreement.

An attorney has many obligations to his or her client. He must zealously defend the interests of the client and respond to the client's concerns. He must communicate with the client, keeping the client informed about the status of the case and explaining developments so that the client can make informed tactical decisions. He must abide by the client's decisions regarding the objectives of the representation. With few exceptions an attorney may not divulge client communications to outside parties without the client's consent.

Attorneys are officers of the court, and as such they must follow the law and obey ethical constraints. They may not...

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