July 2013 Bar Bulletin
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July 2013 Bar Bulletin

Trust and the Attorney-Client Relationship

By Noah Weil


The "Trust Issue." Some ink will probably be spent on trust accounts and complying with RPC 1.5. Those rules are important. But this article isn't about that kind of trust.

Instead, this is about the trust between an attorney and his or her client. I will also discuss why it's so important to maintain a relationship of trust between an attorney and client and how that trust can be lost. Finally, I will discuss some RPC issues attenuated to these concepts.

The dictionary definition of trust is an "assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone,"1 and that's essentially what we're discussing here. A client who trusts his or her attorney believes in that attorney's character, ability and honesty. In other words, a client who trusts the attorney believes that attorney is trying to, and has the ability to, get the job done.

The Importance of Trust Between Attorneys and Clients

Attorneys have access to an enormous amount of sensitive information, including criminal histories, Social Security numbers, medical histories and clients' confessions of their sins, not shared with anyone else. The lawyer's job is to obtain and sift through this deeply personal information and extract from it what could be useful for the case.

But any client who doesn't trust their attorney may decide not to share useful information. A client who trusts his or her attorney will be more open in sharing what they should, even if it's embarrassing, knowing that the attorney will use that information solely for the client's behalf.

Lawyers might also hold back information when a mistake is made during the representation, which can include a missed deadline or merely a missed argument. Unfortunately, in the course of a representation, mistakes can be made. Once a mistake is made a client may take a variety of actions ranging from forgiveness to firing the attorney, all the way up to filing a suit for malpractice and a bar complaint.

A client who does trust an attorney may lean toward forgiveness, if that client believes in an attorney's "character and ability." A client who didn't trust the attorney to begin with may find a mistake to align with the negative view of the attorney and react more harshly.

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