When You Hire a Lawyer, You Hire the Firm
WHO IS MY LAWYER?
When a client retains (hires) a lawyer, the attorney-client relationship covers not only that lawyer, but every member of that lawyer’s firm.
This means every lawyer at a firm has a separate ethical duty to protect the client’s interests. In fact, the ethics code requires every lawyer in a firm to protect the interests of every client of the firm.
This means that lawyers may be required to take certain actions (or not take other actions) to protect the clients of the firm against potential harm resulting from:
- the decision to take on another client, whose interests are materially adverse to those of existing clients*
- acts or omissions of another lawyer within the firm (for example, acts that constitute malpractice/professional negligence)
- the mental impairment of another lawyer at the firm (for example, due to abuse of drugs or alcohol)
HOW FAR DOES THE ATTORNEY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP EXTEND?
When a client retains a lawyer, the attorney-client relationship covers:
- Every lawyer in the retained lawyer’s law firm (or similar organization, such as a legal services group)
- Lawyers brought in to act as “associated counsel”
- Contract lawyers temporarily associated with the law firm hired by the client
- Lawyers who make “special appearances” on behalf of the client
- Any other lawyer brought in to work on the client’s matter
As you can see, this potentially includes a lot of lawyers – all of whom owe an ethical duty to the client. While this does not necessarily mean that all of those lawyers are responsible for malpractice that may occur in handling the client’s case, it’s very important to talk to a lawyer promptly if you think your legal case was handled improperly. The rules that determine when, and under what circumstances, a lawyer (or other lawyers within a firm, or who were involved in a client’s case) is responsible for mishandling a case are numerous and complex, and require individual analysis based on the facts of the case at hand.
However, it’s also true that when you hire a lawyer who works for (or owns) a larger legal practice, you don’t just form an attorney-client relationship with that lawyer–some aspects of the relationship include the entire firm.
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.