5 Ways Your Trial Lawyer May Have Breached Their Fiduciary Duty
When you hire an attorney, you rely on the promise that he is working hard to protect your best interests. This trust is critical to a successful attorney/client relationship, and the outcome of your case rests on the strength of that promise. Unfortunately, simple actions by your attorney, whether intentional or accidental, can quickly turn into major issues in the courtroom.
These five common situations are clear violations of your trial lawyer’s fiduciary duty to you:
The fiduciary duty to act in your best interests extends to situations in which your best interests conflict with your attorney’s. He is still required to do what is best for you, even if there is a cost – financial or otherwise – to him. For example, if your lawyer is working on a contingent-fee basis – paid a percentage of the funds recovered from the other party – encouraging you to accept an unfavorable settlement could be for his benefit, not yours.
Acting in Good Faith
Every trial is a competition between two or more parties, and your lawyer is doing his best to outsmart and outmaneuver the opponent. Unfortunately, this doesn’t always happen. Your attorney’s strategy may simply not be enough to win the case. After the verdict, you will have the opportunity to reflect on any strategic errors, and it is common to imagine the outcome would have been better if your lawyer had done a few things differently.
If your attorney did his best to create a winning strategy and fell short, the next step is to regroup and consider appeal options. However, if the strategy fell short because your attorney wasn’t acting in good faith, that is an entirely different issue.
One of the most fundamental elements of the US judicial system is attorney-client privilege. Information shared with your attorney cannot be used against you, and disclosure of this information is a serious breach of professional conduct. This relationship goes beyond the length of the trial. Your lawyer must keep your secrets forever, even after your death, unless you specifically waive this right. Any actions that result in releasing information told to your lawyer in confidence can be considered a breach of fiduciary duty.
Maintaining the confidentiality of information you provide isn’t the only responsibility your lawyer has. Litigation strategies and key components of your case must remain confidential as well. Disclosing these secrets gives opposing counsel an advantage in the courtroom, and your attorney’s behavior constitutes a breach of the duty to act in your best interests.
Conflict of Interest
The world gets smaller every day, and it is not uncommon for attorneys to discover that current clients and cases intersect with others – past and present. Your lawyer must examine such situations carefully and disclose these relationships to you to ensure that conflicts of interest don’t compromise your case. An example comes up when attorneys move from firm to firm. As the lawyer gets involved in your case, he discovers that the other party is a client of his former employer. While this situation doesn’t automatically disqualify attorneys from working with you, they must carefully consider the extent of their involvement with the other client.
Your attorney is your guide in the complicated judicial system, and your confidence in his ability to act in your best interests is key to a successful relationship. The five situations listed are breaches of your trial lawyer’s fiduciary duty to you.