The Business Litigation Blog

Lawyers Can Only Take Action With Their Clients’ Consent

When a lawyer is hired, clients trust that he or she will provide them with competent representation, accurate legal information, and advice based on fact and relevant, current law. Clients often trust their lawyer’s legal opinion and heed their lawyer’s advice. Still, clients should understand that the lawyer represents the client’s goals and interests. Clients authorize the actions of their lawyer, and the lawyer must do what the client wants (see Rule 1.2 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct).


The Client is the Boss


As a general rule, the client is the lawyer’s boss. Ultimately, the lawyer needs to obey the client’s instructions or specific objectives. Short of the client asking the lawyer to do something illegal or unethical, the client gets the last say even if the attorney advises against such action. For instance, a criminal defendant might want to go to trial despite his attorney’s recommendation that the defendant take a plea deal. Similarly, if a lawyer presents a client with several viable legal options to solving a problem and the client chooses an option that is not the best choice in the lawyer’s opinion, the lawyer is obligated to do as the client wants.


There is a difference between a lawyer recommending a particular course of action and a lawyer acting in a way that is beyond his or her authorization. A lawyer encouraging his or her clients to choose the best legal option in light of the client’s particular situation is not uncommon, but the client gets to make the final decision. Furthermore, the client’s reason can be entirely his or her own. The client might feel compelled morally or ethically to choose a particular course of action.


When Lawyers Take Action Without Consent


Lawyers who go beyond their authority and act without their client’s consent, or in violation of a client’s specific instructions, are committing legal malpractice. Clients expressly retain the right to consent to settlements, agree to plea deals, waive criminal jury trials, and testify in court. Lawyers can not decide these matters. Lawyers, on the other hand, are often given freedom in terms of how to accomplish a client’s legal objectives.


The lawyer is supposed to represent the client’s interests, and the client’s interests alone. If the client provides specific instructions, the lawyer must oblige as best as possible. Similarly, the lawyer can not enter into contracts, accept legal obligations, or make legally significant decisions on the client’s behalf without either clear prior authorization or the client’s consent.


When You Need a Legal Malpractice Lawyer


Your lawyer may think that he or she knows better than you do, or that you cannot understand the full extent of your legal situation. Regardless of the reasons, when your lawyer goes against your wishes, it can constitute legal malpractice. Your lawyer has an obligation to represent your interests, even if you choose a legal option that he or she believes is not the best choice.  If you are concerned that your lawyer has deviated from your specific instructions, or has done something significant without first obtaining your consent, contact the professionals at the Patterson Law Firm today. We are a Chicago-based law firm with extensive experience in legal malpractice and attorney ethical issues. Choose to work with us today.

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