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Clients' Rights and Responsibilities when Working with an Attorney

An attorney hired or appointed on your behalf acts as your agent to advise you, conduct business for you, or represent your side in a legal proceeding. As officers of the legal system, lawyers also have a responsibility to assure that the legal system remains fair, effective and efficient. Under the Rules of Professional Conduct, attorneys are expected to represent the interests of their clients vigorously and competently within the law. Trust, courtesy and respect are common expectations of the lawyer and the client. The client looks to the attorney for expertise, education, advocacy, good judgment, representation, counseling and protection. As a professional, your lawyer should provide these services competently, ethically and loyally. This pamphlet includes many, but not all, of the basic elements of an appropriate attorney/ client relationship.

  • Your lawyer and his or her staff should treat you, the court, the opposing party and their counsel with courtesy, and you should extend the same courtesy to your lawyer and his or her employees.

  • Your lawyer should handle your legal matter ethically and competently. Your lawyer should not violate the law or the Lawyers Rules of Professional Conduct in representing you. Your lawyer should give you independent professional judgment and loyalty and should identify any potential conflicts of interest. You may choose to continue representation by a particular attorney in the event of a minor conflict, but an attorney cannot represent you if he or she has a personal or professional split of loyalty or interest.

  • You must tell your lawyer all facts relating to your matter even if they seem unimportant or are damaging to your case or unflattering to you. With all the relevant information, your attorney may be able to develop a strategy to defuse any potentially damaging issues.

  • Your lawyer should address your questions and concerns promptly. Your lawyer should keep you informed of the status of your matter and should send you copies of all relevant papers. You should keep your own file as this will help you monitor the progress of your case as well as protect you in the event something happens to your attorney or his or her records.

  • Your lawyer should explain his or her fees and what expenses you will be expected to pay and when and how to pay. Ideally, you should receive a written document from your attorney which outlines the terms of your professional relationship.

  • Your lawyer should notify you immediately when funds or property belonging to you are received and should promptly disburse all funds and property to which you are entitled.

  • Your lawyer is required to maintain all client funds and property in an account separate from the lawyer’s own funds and property (e.g., a trust account) and provide you with a periodic accounting. If you are being charged on an hourly basis, your lawyer cannot withdraw from the trust account any legal fees you have paid in advance until work is done to earn the fees. Your lawyer should refund any unearned legal fees to you whenever he or she completes or withdraws from your representation.

  • You should maintain contact with your lawyer and promptly notify him or her of any change in telephone number or address. You should respond promptly to your lawyer’s requests for information. You should appear on time or a bit early for all legal proceedings. You should discuss appropriate attire for court with your counsel if you have a question.

  • Your attorney should accept cases only in areas in which he or she has or can attain a good knowledge of the law. It is appropriate for you to inquire as to your attorney’s experience.

  • Your lawyer should tell you about the potential consequences if you win or lose your case, including whether you may be responsible for your opponent’s attorney’s fees and any other obligations which may arise.

  • Your lawyer may not reveal your secrets and confidences without your express permission except in very specific circumstances. You should ask your attorney what those circumstances are. If you have another person present during your consultations with your counsel, you have likely compromised the attorney/client privilege which protects your privacy. You should discuss this with your attorney.

  • Except for some court-appointed attorneys, a lawyer is not obligated to accept a case or continue to represent a client if the lawyer determines the client’s cause is without merit or if there is a conflict of interest. An attorney may also withdraw if the client is no longer paying under the representation agreement, if the client’s goals have significantly changed from those stated in the representation agreement, or a suitable working relationship with the client is no longer possible.

  • Your lawyer should represent you without regard to race, creed, color, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, national origin or disability.

For further information regarding the relationship between you and your attorney, please contact the Client Attorney Assistance Program (CAAP) of the State Bar of New Mexico.

CAAP assists clients and their attorneys in resolving complaints before they become a serious barrier to an effective attorney/client relationship or a disciplinary problem for the attorney. Many complaints received by CAAP involve "communication issues." When CAAP contacts the attorney, the attorney is often not aware that the client is displeased or that there is a problem. The focus of CAAP is to facilitate the maintenance of the attorney/client relationship which may be strained because of lack of communication or other factors.

Client Attorney Assistance Program (CAAP) of the State Bar of New Mexico
Phone: (505) 797-6000 | Fax: ( 505) 797-6074

Special Note - This information has been issued to inform and not to advise. It is based on New Mexico law in effect at the time of writing. The statements are general and individual facts in any given situation may alter their application or involve other laws not referred to here. You should always seek advice from an attorney if any questions arise. This document is intended as a public service and is not an endorsement of any attorney or law firm.