The professionals at Simas & Associates, Ltd. regularly encounter individuals who have never needed to hire an attorney—and need one now. These are smart, successful, and savvy individuals, professionals, or business owners, sophisticated in the nuances of their practices, professions, specialties, services, offerings, or products. Unfortunately, that expertise does not always provide an intuitive knowledge of how the legal profession, representation, or services work. And this is especially in the areas of professional licensing defense, healthcare law, and even employment law.
This blog will discuss the top five things a lawyer does during an attorney-client relationship. For reasons to hire an attorney in the first place, please see our blog entitled Top Ten Reasons You Should Not Represent Yourself at Your Bureau of Real Estate Hearing. Once you make this decision, attorneys undertake representation –the subject of this blog.
1. Entering the case
Once an attorney is retained, he or she “enters the case” on behalf of the client. If there is a matter pending before an agency or a court, the lawyer files a notice with the court and sends it to all parties that they are appearing as “counsel of record.” If the matter involves a private dispute or settlement negotiation, the attorney sends a letter notifying all parties that he or she will be assuming legal representation. Lawyers know they need to communicate with other attorneys “of record” who have entered the case regarding all aspects of litigation, hearings, negotiations, and other matters, on their client’s behalf.
Appearing in a case is not a casual thing as many people think. Once an attorney appears in a case, the attorney is responsible for all communication, all deadlines, being continually up to speed on all matters, and undertaking to negotiate with all parties involved and keeping our client up to date.
2. Assuming responsibility for all deadlines
Upon entering a case, an attorney assumes responsibility for court deadlines, statutory deadlines, responding to motions and discovery, and demands of the opposing side. And the lawyer is responsible to communicate with his or her client. This comes as a relief to clients who may not be accustomed to the deadlines their matter must meet or be even be unaware of them.
Many clients are not aware of this obligation attorneys have. And it is the main reason that attorney-client communication, including timely and open dialogue, is essential.
On extreme example of this occurs in litigation when the opposing side files a motion or even an ex parte motion. This means the lawyer is obliged to respond by the deadline or appear in court which could be as soon as the next day!
3. Assuming responsibility for all communications
Whether an action in court or a private dispute, attorneys’ ethical rules generally require them to communicate through opposing counsel. And having a united front, one point of contact, especially given the negotiations that occur in all aspects of legal representation, is imperative. In fact, failure to have your attorney be the point of communication can have disastrous consequences ranging from admitting things to be used against you, waiver of attorney-client privilege, and lack of a prepared defense.
4. Monitoring Case-Court-Parties, Ready for Action
When an attorney becomes counsel of record in a case, the court, administrative agency, opposing counsel, and even the media, all know the attorney represents the client for whom he or she has appeared. This means that the attorney must be notified if anything happens. Everyone involved must provide notice to that attorney of dates and deadlines, sends settlement offers or demand to that attorney, and knows they must work with that attorney on all matters regarding the case. Entering a case for an attorney means the attorney commits to all involved to be the point of contact. The attorney commits to cooperating with other counsel and the tribunal, and to move the matter along without delay.
5. Obligation to end representation
If the attorney cannot fulfill these obligations once appearing in a case, he or she must withdraw or notify all parties and the tribunal that the representation has concluded. An attorney cannot fulfill these obligations without a cooperative and communicative client.
At Simas & Associates, Ltd., we educate our clients about what attorneys do and the importance of communication. Understanding these obligations—what attorneys do—illustrates why the attorney-client relationship is a formal one, with a written agreement, and a mutual plan of representation. And it explains why a sudden change in plan, lack of communication, or sudden request from a client to stop work impedes and debilitates the attorney form doing his or her job.