What are the elements necessary to establish an attorney-client relationship?

There are many aspects of the attorney-client relationship that are governed by professional liability rules. The two most basic duties are the duties of competent representation and diligent defense. Top 8 Tips for the Attorney-Client Relationship As a lawyer, you are 100 percent committed to helping your clients. But do your customers know? Beyond their daily commitments, there can be some big demands on lawyers in terms of diligence.

For example, Comment 1 to Rule 1.3 states: “A lawyer must pursue a matter on behalf of a client despite personal opposition, obstruction, or inconvenience to the lawyer. Join this tour on August 18 to see why more than 150,000 legal professionals use Clio's leading cloud-based legal software. California courts have held that an attorney-client relationship can only be created by contract, xii However, the formation of an attorney-client relationship does not require an express contract; such a relationship can be formed implicitly, as evidenced by the intention and conduct of the parties, xiii While the lawyer and the alleged client may have their own subjective opinions as to whether or not an attorney-client relationship has been formed and with which client (s), courts will generally apply objective evidence. Thus, despite the subjective opinion of counsel to the contrary, the reasonable perception of the alleged client may determine that the person is a client of the lawyer, xiv.

Usually, an attorney-client relationship doesn't form until the lawyer and client agree. But the attorney-client privilege protects some communications made before the prospective client hires the lawyer, and even some where the lawyer is never hired. While this list of factors is illustrative, none of these factors alone will affirmatively establish the existence of an attorney-client relationship. Xiii While the lawyer and the alleged client may have their own subjective opinions as to whether or not an attorney-client relationship has been formed and with which client (s), courts will generally apply objective evidence.

And, even if an attorney-client relationship has been established, it may not be entirely clear who the client is. An attorney-client relationship may also be expressly recognized by the lawyer's “appearance” on behalf of the client, including filing pleadings in court for the client, drafting documents on behalf of the client, or appearing in court as a representative of a litigant. However, an attorney-client relationship can be formed even without any charges, change hands, and without a signed agreement. App3d 560 (“It is the intention and conduct of the parties that is fundamental to the formation of the lawyer-client relationship).

An express contract is not necessary to form an attorney-client relationship; the relationship may be implied by the conduct of the parties. In most cases, determining that the attorney-client relationship exists is not a laborious task, since most of the time, the lawyer has expressly acknowledged the client's representation. By its very nature, the attorney-client relationship offers a distinct and invaluable right to protect communications from forced disclosure to any third party, including business partners and competitors, government agencies, and even criminal justice authorities. The imputation of an attorney-client relationship also applies with respect to certain other prohibitions under the Rules.

As elementary as this concept may seem, many clients assume that the relationship exists and mistakenly rely on the protection of privilege, but privilege does not exist until the relationship is firmly established. Alternatively, the lawyer may agree to represent someone for all legal consequences matters that may arise, which creates an open and ongoing attorney-client relationship. An attorney-client relationship is formed when a lawyer agrees to provide legal assistance to someone who seeks the lawyer's services. The information provided on this site does not constitute legal advice, does not constitute a lawyer referral service, and no attorney-client or confidential relationship is formed or will be formed through the use of the site.

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Albert Richardson
Albert Richardson

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