Your Relationship with Your Lawyer

by Rio Guerrero

On occasion, a prospective client will visit our law firm for an initial consultation, and speak negatively about their previous experience, with a different attorney. In fact, during a recent consultation of a Filipina concerning her U.S. immigration matter, the woman became very upset as she described the actions of her previous attorney.

According to her, several months earlier, she hired a different attorney to assist her with a PERM labor certification process – a process by which a U.S. employer sponsors a foreign national employee in order to secure that employee’s U.S. lawful permanent residency (“green card” status).

The woman had paid her attorney an initial down payment, and subsequent installment payments. However, that attorney conducted the job recruitment process incorrectly, and improperly prepared the application. The PERM application was ultimately denied, as a direct result of that attorney’s failures.

After receiving the denial, that attorney failed to timely notify the woman about such denial and was impossible to reach via telephone or email. In fact, he refused to return her telephone calls, or meet with her, to discuss her case.

Frustrated, she decided to end her business relationship with that attorney, and demanded her documents from that law office. But that office refused to give her a copy of her file, claiming she still owed them more money – though no retainer agreement was ever executed. Nevertheless, she could not continue her case with that firm. She now sought our help with the immigration case her prior attorney mishandled.

On behalf of this client, our law firm spoke directly with the prior attorney and demanded her file from their office. We quickly procured her entire case file, and are proceeding with her immigration case. Fortunately, her path to “green card” status remains available, and we can still achieve the immigration goals sought by her and her family.

Most attorneys are ethical professionals, who competently handle cases, and effectively communicate with their clients. However, there are rare and unfortunate situations where a particular attorney and client do not work well together. During such instances, it is important for clients to understand their rights. Knowing your rights, and demanding the law firm you hire respect those rights, is important to preserve a healthy attorney-client relationship.

Attorneys all over the world are held to a high standard concerning their professional and ethical conduct. In our jurisdiction – the U.S. – individual states have published rules and guidelines that determine a client’s rights upon hiring an attorney. For example, below is New York State’s list of client rights:

1. You are entitled to be treated with courtesy and consideration at all times by your lawyer and the other lawyers and personnel in your lawyer’s office.

2. You are entitled to an attorney capable of handling your legal matter competently and diligently, in accordance with the highest standards of the profession. If you are not satisfied with how your matter is being handled, you have the right to withdraw from the attorney-client relationship at any time (court approval may be required in some matters and your attorney may have a claim against you for the value of services rendered to you up to the point of discharge).

3. You are entitled to your lawyer’s independent professional judgment and undivided loyalty uncompromised by conflicts of interest.

4. You are entitled to be charged a reasonable fee and to have your lawyer explain at the outset how the fee will be computed and the manner and frequency of billing. You are entitled to request and receive a written itemized bill from your attorney at reasonable intervals. You may refuse to enter into any fee arrangement that you find unsatisfactory. In the event of a fee dispute, you may have the right to seek arbitration; your attorney will provide you with the necessary information regarding arbitration in the event of a fee dispute, or upon your request.

5. You are entitled to have your questions and concerns addressed in a prompt manner and to have your telephone calls returned promptly.

6. You are entitled to be kept informed as to the status of your matter and to request and receive copies of papers. You are entitled to sufficient information to allow you to participate meaningfully in the development of your matter.

7. You are entitled to have your legitimate objectives respected by your attorney, including whether or not to settle your matter (court approval of a settlement is required in some matters).

8. You have the right to privacy in your dealings with your lawyer and to have your secrets and confidences preserved to the extent permitted by law.

9. You are entitled to have your attorney conduct himself or herself ethically in accordance with the Code of Professional Responsibility.

10. You may not be refused representation on the basis of race, creed, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, national origin or disability.

You are entitled to valuable rights as a client of a law firm. More importantly, your attorney and the firm should respect these rights. If you experience problems with a law firm’s service, you should raise your issues with the attorney handling your case. Most likely, your attorney will recognize your importance as a law firm client, and do his or her best to solve any problems. Know your rights and expect professional and ethical service.


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