Lawyers owe a number of legal and ethical duties to both current and former clients. These duties are created by state law, and the specifics and nuances of those duties vary accordingly. However, the basic rules are consistent in most jurisdictions.
Duty of Undivided Loyalty
First and foremost, lawyers owe a “fiduciary duty” to their clients. That means attorneys must act in accordance with principles of complete loyalty to the client´s interests. There is a complicated body of law that regulates attorney-client conflicts of interest, but the basic proposition is that an attorney cannot take any position in conflict with the client.
Duty to Maintain Confidences
Attorneys have a duty to maintain a client´s confidences regarding any information that the client wants kept confidential. This duty survives the end of the lawyer-client relationship. Thus, lawyers are forever barred from either disclosing a client´s confidential information or using that information in a way that is inconsistent with a client´s wishes.
Duty to Practice Competently
Lawyers have a duty to exercise reasonable care and competence in the performance of their duties during representation. This standard has been interpreted in different ways, but it generally means that attorneys are required to exercise the degree of skill, judgment and care that a reasonably careful lawyer would use under the same circumstances.
Duty to Inform
Finally, lawyers have a duty to inform a client of significant developments related to their case or representation and respond promptly to reasonable requests from the client for information.
You should feel free to ask your lawyer — or a lawyer you are considering to represent you — about any or all of these issues.
Finding a Lawyer
If you’re looking for a business lawyer, you may wonder where to start your search. Several directories, including the Web site lawyers.com, can lead you to the services in your area with the expertise you require. And while you’re making your search you no doubt have concerns about how to financially plan for your consultation and any legal action you undertake. Read How Will I Be Charged for Legal Services? to get a sense of how the billing works.