This month, I wanted to discuss something we haven’t explored before. When working with an attorney, every client has certain rights and responsibilities. It is important to understand these rights and responsibilities because we are all under a lot of pressure – clients are selling or buying their homes, or forming businesses, etc. – and attorneys are juggling so many clients and doing their best to make sure each one feels important. Sometimes we need to step back and look at the other’s rights and responsibilities from their perspective.
The NYS Bar Association has developed Client Rights and Client Responsibilities, with which all attorneys and clients should be familiar. You can find these documents right here and I am breaking down some of the information below.
Everyone can probably guess the first and most important one, which is confidentiality. The attorney-client privilege is the basis of an attorney’s ethical consideration. We want our clients to understand that communicating with their attorney is safe. It is the place to speak the truth, no matter how damning it might be.
Many of the rights are self-explanatory. You deserve to be treated with respect from your attorney and they should handle your matter professionally.
You can terminate the relationship if it is not working for you. Be advised you may still owe them for services rendered, but it’s important to know you have this option. No one should feel stuck working with someone if it’s not a good fit.
Your attorney should review any and all fees you will be paying. You can ask for clarification and even get an itemized bill. If a fee dispute would arise, you can seek arbitration. Legal costs can be confusing and it’s important your attorney helps you understand exactly what you are paying for and why.
An attorney needs to provide written retainer agreements or engagement letters in certain types of matters, and all matters where the legal fees are expected to be more than $3,000. While most of our real estate matters are certainly far less than that, it is our practice to provide such a letter to every client, so there is no confusion about possible fees.
Your attorney should communicate with you in a timely fashion and provide you with the information necessary to help you make informed decisions about your case. If you feel out of the loop, talk to your attorney about this. You should always feel comfortable and part of the process. We always aim to make sure our clients know what is going on with their matter, every step of the way.
And finally, you may not be refused representation on the basis of race, creed, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, national origin or disability.
Just as you have rights, you also have responsibilities to your attorney. It’s a two-way street and an honest relationship is key. You need to give your attorney the information they need to best represent you and not leave things out or alter the facts. True and accurate information up front is the key to any successful matter – whether it is a real estate transaction or a litigation matter.
The most important responsibility toward your attorney is to treat your attorney and their staff with respect, pay the fees you are billed when they are due and understand your attorney is working with other clients, which might cause them to be unavailable at certain times. Often, there are important deadlines we have to observe for another client and cannot return your call right away or get to your matter immediately. We ask that you be patient with us and understand you will get the same respect and dedication when it is your turn.
A simple responsibility, but an often overlooked one, is updating your attorney on changes to your name, address, phone number, etc. If your attorney needs to mail documents or reach you urgently and they don’t have the correct information, it’s only delaying the process further.
It is important to understand that an attorney can decline to take your case for various reasons, including if they feel it is without merit or if there is a conflict of interest.
If you want to read over these documents in their entirety, check out that link above or feel free to contact me and we can go over them together.