In this article, we consider the function of lawyers on behalf of their clients. The basic function of a lawyer in relation to a client is to advise and represent the client in keeping with the law and the ethical rules of the legal profession.
The lawyer's role
A lawyer's role in this regard includes the duties to:
• advise the client on the law based on what facts the client tells him
• advise the client on the chance of success of any claim
• represent those clients who retain him
• put forward on his client's behalf all that can be reasonably said
• advise a client on the terms of settlement of a claim.
The lawyer is not permitted to:
• tell the client what to say in court
• make up a false defence for a client
• present cases to the court which in his professional judgment have no merit
• advise a client to take action which is unlawful
• mislead a court on his client's behalf
• decide for the client what he or she should do.
To get his instructions the lawyer may:
• question the client about the claim or case
• take a statement from the client
• read documents provided by the client
• interview witnesses who may provide relevant information.
What clients should expect from their lawyers Clients should expect from their lawyers many things. Among these are to be:
• treated with courtesy and respect
• advised in clear, plain terms on the case in which the lawyer has been consulted
• advised promptly or within a reasonable time frame
• given competent advice
• given competent service
• satisfied that whatever is said to the lawyer will be kept in strict confidence and not be told to anyone else without the client's consent
• represented in court when the case is called
• kept informed about the progress of the case
• charged a fee that is fair and reasonable.
The Legal Profession Act and its Code of Ethics govern the way lawyers must act. If they act against the code, a client has the right to bring a complaint against them.
Bringing a complaint
The Disciplinary Committee of the Law Association considers and hears complaints brought against attorneys. A client must complete the necessary forms which must be submitted to the office of the Disciplinary Committee located on the first floor of the Hall of Justice, Port-of-Spain. People in Tobago can file their complaints at the High Court in Scarborough.
On filing, the Disciplinary Committee will first look over your complaint to decide if there is enough information to require the lawyer to be called on to answer. If an arguable case is made out, both the person making the complaint and the lawyer will be sent a notice of hearing.
You will then have to come before the committee to give evidence to justify your complaint. You are allowed to have another attorney-at-law represent you at the hearing or you may represent yourself. This column is not legal advice. If you have a legal problem, you should consult a legal adviser.