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How to Create an Attorney-Client Relationship


Many important rights and privileges are created by the formation of an attorney-client relationship–rights and privileges that do not exist otherwise. For example, attorney-client privilege does not exist unless an attorney-client relationship exists. In addition, a lawyer’s authority to represent a client in court, in negotiations, and in other situations is created when an attorney-client relationship is formed.



Normally, an attorney-client relationship is created at the time an attorney and a client enter into a contract for legal services. Most of the time, the contract is an express contract, and involves a written contract signed by both the attorney and the client.

This express written contract may be called a retainer agreement, an engagement letter (or engagement agreement), an attorney-client agreement, or something else entirely–though those names are the most common. Some of these contracts are fairly short (about one page) while others may be several pages long. The primary purposes of these contracts are:

  •  To confirm creation of an attorney-client relationship
  •  To explain what matters or services the attorney-client relationship covers
  •  To explain the amount and nature of the lawyer’s fees

Attorney-client contracts can contain other terms as well. For example, they may contain certain types of disclaimers or explain assumptions upon which the attorney agrees to represent the client. Where contingency fees are involved, the agreement will explain the nature of these fees.

Retainer agreements also should contain any terms required by law in the relevant jurisdiction. For example in some places, the lawyer is required to make disclosures about issues like whether or not the lawyer has professional liability insurance (and if so, how much).



Sometimes, yes, though this is rare.

Sometimes, an attorney-client relationship can be formed by implication, which means the relationship is created by the parties’ conduct–the way the lawyer and the client behave–even if they fail to sign a written contract.

In addition, it’s important to note that lawyers have a legal duty to protect the confidentiality of certain kinds of client information even if no attorney-client relationship is ever formed. Specifically, lawyers must maintain the confidentiality of certain kinds of information discussed and disclosed during consultations with persons who are not clients. That duty does not change, even if no retainer or contract is signed, and even if the lawyer does not end up representing the person or entity.


Disclaimer: THIS ARTICLE IS FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY, AND DOES NOT CONSTITUTE LEGAL ADVICE OR CREATE AN ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE AUTHOR OR ROSS LAW AND ANY PERSON. Your legal rights and experiences may vary. Never use an online article (including this one) to evaluate your legal rights or claims. Consult an experienced attorney promptly to obtain a personalized evaluation of your claims, potential damages, and the various legal rights and options available to you.

You may lose or compromise your rights if you delay in consulting legal counsel. Most legal claims (and defenses), as well as legal and court procedures, are complicated and fact-dependent. If you believe you have a claim against someone who injured you, a lawyer who represented you in a previous lawsuit, or any other legal claim, consult an experienced lawyer immediately for an evaluation of your individual rights and claims.

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