QUESTION: What should I expect from my lawyer, what
are his responsibilities to me?
James M. Edwards, P.C.
1401 17th Street, Suite 330
Denver, CO 80202
FAX (303) 292-0924
ANSWER: You should expect that your lawyer will be able to leap
over tall buildings in a single bound, be faster than a
speeding bullet and more powerful than a locomotive. And to do
all of that for free.
Realistically, your lawyer owes you several important duties.
To put it most simply, your lawyer should not steal from you,
nor cheat you, nor deceive you. Your lawyer should be able to
handle the case in a competent, knowledgeable and effective
manner. Your lawyer should inform you of all stages of the
proceedings and advise you of potential risks and benefits.
Your lawyer should stay active on your file and not let it sit
idle. Your lawyer should take your phone calls and promptly
return all messages. One of the largest sources of complaints
against lawyers is that the lawyer neglected the matter.
Your lawyer should not guarantee results or a specific amount
of a recovery, especially upon first meeting you. Your lawyer
should make the billing arrangements clear so that you know
what you are being charged and in what fashion. The hourly rate
should be plainly set forth for all people working on the file:
senior lawyers, associates, paralegals. Some firms charge the
client for secretarial time or overtime. The lawyer should be
clear on these type of charges and on all of the costs and
expenses to be charged. Costs include items such as postage,
photocopying, out of pocket expenses, deposition fees, court
reporter charges, expert witness fees. The lawyer should not
add surcharges to items such as postage, photocopies, or
delivery services. A lawyer is entitled to recover the out of
pocket expenses but should not make a profit on these items. If
your lawyer will be out of town working on your file, is the
lawyer flying first class and staying at the Ritz and charging
it all to you? Be sure you know.
Your lawyer must provide you a written fee agreement if your
case is being handled on a contingent fee basis. If your is an
hourly fee case, or a flat fee case, then the scope of the
representation should be clearly understood by all parties.
Supreme Court rules require a written fee schedule be provided
to new clients. Non-refundable retainers are not allowed by the
Colorado Supreme Court and are improper. The lawyer should
charge only for the work done. If the task takes less time than
covered by the retainer you should receive a refund.
Also, does the lawyer charge interest on past due amounts? When
does the account become past due? The best way to be sure of
the terms is to put it in writing. These fee and engagement
agreements should also spell out what happens in the event you
fire the lawyer, or the lawyer wants to â€œfireâ€ you as a
client. There are times when a lawyer may properly retain your
file or documents until the account is paid.
The bill you receive from your lawyer should show the work that
is being done, the time it took and the amount you are being
charged. You should be wary about repeated vague billing terms
such as "file work" or "file review,", that could be
a sign that your file is being "churned" just to generate
fees. If you have questions about your bill then ask
Don't expect your lawyer to be your friend. Your lawyer should
not go into business with you or loan you money. A lawyer
should not represent both sides in a business transaction or a
divorce, and in certain circumstances should not represent
multiple persons claiming injury in the same accident. Do
expect the lawyer to behave in a professional and courteous
manner towards you and others involved in the process. The
lawyer should not attack or berate the other side simply
because you want it done, or because you have a personal
You must understand that while your lawyer may be
your 'hired gun,' the lawyer also owes duties to the
Court and the system. Thus there are times the lawyer cannot do
what you want done. Your lawyer cannot put you on the witness
stand knowing you are going to lie. Your lawyer cannot use the
litigation process simply to exact revenge for you or wreak
financial ruin on another person. There are times when your
lawyer must disclose information to either the Court or the
other side that is damaging to your case. The lawyer is
required to do this. Your lawyer should not lie for you. If you
lawyer is dishonest in dealing with others, what makes you
think the lawyer is not also being dishonest with you?
In short you should expect the lawyer to do the best possible
job under the circumstances. That does not mean the lawyer must
win every dispute. So be aware of the circumstances and let
your attorney know your situation. You should not expect the
lawyer to hire the best experts in the world if you do not have
the funds to pay for those experts or if the case is a small
one. The amount at stake can play a significant role in how the
attorney approaches the case. You shouldn't spend $20,000
in attorneys fees and costs if the most you can win is $25,000.
The case should be scaled realistically to your budget,
consideration should be given to your best case and worst case
scenarios. Effective communication between you and your lawyer
is critical to having an effective working relationship.
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Initial consultations are available at no
JAMES M. EDWARDS, P.C. is a general practice law office with
an emphasis on personal injury matters and motor vehicle
claims. The office also handles traffic matters, criminal
matters, insurance questions, and consumer issues. The office
of JAMES M. EDWARDS, P.C. is located at 1401 17th Street, Suite
330, Denver, CO 80202, (303) 293-8191, Fax 292-0924. Initial
consultations are available at no cost.
Copyright 2002, James M. Edwards, P.C. All Rights Reserved.
No portion of this article may be reprinted or republished
without permission of the author. The article is meant to
advise the reader of general legal principles and trends. It is
not case specific legal advice. If you would like further
information, or would like to see a specific topic addressed in
a future article, please contact the author.