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Ethical Duties of Attorneys

Because there are so many great “lawyer jokes” out there, many people are unaware that attorneys owe their clients certain ethical duties. When an attorney breaches his ethical duty to a client, the law provides the client with mechanisms to remedy the breach and any damage it caused to the client.

First and foremost, attorneys must serve as a zealous advocate for their clients. Zealous advocacy is a subjective concept, but at its core, it requires attorneys to vigorously and strenuously advance their clients interests. Attorneys are prevented from engaging in illegal or unethical behavior on their clients’ behalf, but must pursue all legal and ethical options for obtaining satisfaction for their clients.

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Attorneys also have a duty to maintain their clients’ confidentiality. Anything that a client says to his attorney is covered by the attorney/client privilege. This privilege means that an attorney cannot be compelled to testify regarding anything said to him by his client. However, an attorney’s duty of confidentiality is much broader. An attorney may not reveal information relating to his client’s representation unless the client gives his consent, except in certain very limited situations, such as preventing a client from committing a crime or to prevent reasonably certain death or bodily harm, among others. This duty is broad, and must be scrupulously observed by all attorneys.

An attorney also must ensure that he is not causing conflicts of interest. A lawyer cannot represent a client if the representation would significantly impair another client’s interest. Some conflicts of interest may be waived by the client, but not all conflicts may do so. Attorneys must be aware of potential conflicts, and must address them with clients as soon as practicable.

Finally, attorneys are bound by a number of basic rules which are intended to ensure that clients receive excellent service. Attorneys must act with reasonable diligence and promptness in representing a client. Attorneys also must provide competent representation, providing the necessary thoroughness, legal knowledge, skill, and preparation. An attorney must also keep a client reasonably informed about his representation.

If a client suspects his attorney has breached one of the above ethical duties, or a duty not listed above, that client’s first remedy should be contact with the Louisiana State Bar Association (LSBA). The LSBA will investigate the client’s claims and will determine whether the attorney should face sanctions for his actions. The LSBA can also provide information to help the client to determine if further actions are necessary. The LSBA can be reached online at http://www.lsba.org.

It is important, however, for clients to maintain reasonable expectations when evaluating their attorneys. Attorneys are only human, and are never perfect. While your attorney can and should vigorously represent your interests, our justice system often simply cannot meet all of your wants and desires. An investigation by the LSBA into an attorney’s conduct is a serious matter with potentially severe implications for that attorney’s career, and is not a step that should ever be taken lightly by a client.

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