Your relationship with your lawyer is governed both by the agreement you make with the lawyer and by the laws and rules that govern the lawyer's conduct. Those laws and rules give you rights that you should know about before you agree to retain an attorney.
1. Before you retain a lawyer to represent you, you have a right to:
- Know about the lawyer's education, training, and experience
- Receive an estimate of the costs and fees the lawyer expects to incur in representing you
- You should recognize that some legal matters become more complicated and expensive than originally anticipated
- Understand the possible consequences of the representation, including any adverse consequences that may result if the litigation is unsuccessful
- Know whether the lawyer has previously represented any adverse parties (e.g., anyone who is, or may be, on the others side of the litigation to include potential witnesses.)
- Discuss and bargain the proposed fee, and the rate or percentage of the fee.
- Know if the lawyer carries malpractice insurance
2. At the time you retain a lawyer, you have a right to:
- Agree, in writing if requested, on the services to be provided and the fees to be charged. If you agree on a contingent fee, the fee percentage should be stated. If you agree to fees based on hourly or other unit rates, the rate should be stated.
- Direct the objectives of the representation, unless the objectives are illegal or unethical
3. When a lawyer is representing you, you have a right to:
- Be represented competently
- Be represented zealously, but honestly and with respect for the rights of others and the orderly administration of justice
- Receive from you lawyer information about the representation and copies of documents prepared on your behalf
- Ask about the progress of the case at reasonable intervals
- Demand reasonable diligence and promptness by your lawyer
- Expect your lawyer to explain matters so you can make informed decisions about the representation
- Be consulted on the means that your lawyer will use in representing you
- Learn about and explore methods other than litigation for resolving your disputes, including mediation, arbitration, and conciliation
- In a civil manner, decide whether to accept an offer or settlement
- In a criminal matter, decide what plea to enter, whether to waive a jury trial, and whether you will testify
- Demand that you lawyer exercise independent professional judgment on your behalf, free from compromising influences
- Receive a statement showing the work performed by your lawyer and the costs incurred before you pay any bill
- Be referred to other counsel if your lawyer cannot represent you properly, and have a free copy of your file provided to new counsel
4. At any time after you have consulted a lawyer, you have a right to:
- Expect the lawyer to preserve your confidences, secrets, and statements revealed during your consultation
- Expect the lawyer to be courteous and considerate
- Seek a second opinion with the consent of your present counsel and the knowledge of your representation provided to those you contact
- Contact the State Bar of Montana if you believe the lawyer's fees are inappropriate
- Contact the Supreme Court's Office of Disciplinary Counsel at (406)442-1648 if you believe that the lawyer has acted unethically
You do not have a right to:
- Ask your lawyer to violate the law, act unethically, take unreasonable or arbitrary positions against your lawyer's professional judgment, or do anything repugnant to your lawyer's own sense of honor and propriety
- Demand that your lawyer endorse your political, economic, social, or moral views or activities
How you can hold down your legal fees
- Before you visit with a lawyer, gather all papers related to the case and write down all of the facts that you can recall, as well as the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of all persons involved in your litigation
- Be as accurate as you can. Disclose the facts fully and honestly, good and bad
- Get legal advice early, before signing documents or taking legal action. It is less difficult and less expensive to prevent a problem than to fix it
- Avoid unnecessary telephone calls to your lawyer, but be sure to call to provide any significant information you acquire since you last spoke to your lawyer
- Ask how much legal action will cost, and if you cannot recover those costs through litigation, explore methods other than litigation.
What do I do if I have a complaint against my lawyer?
A lawyer's conduct is closely governed by the Rules of Professional Conduct. Failure to follow the rules can result in a lawyer being disciplined by the Montana Supreme Court. If you believe that a lawyer has acted unethically, you may address a complaint to the court's Office of Disciplinary Counsel at 1(877)442-1648 (toll free, in-state only) or (406)442-1648. Forms and other information are available on the ODC website. The office will acknowledge your complaint and send a copy of it to the attorney involve, so that he or she has the opportunity to respond. Many complaints can be quickly resolved through an open discussion of the problem. If not, an investigation will be undertaken to determine whether or not the attorney violated the rules. If a violation is found, it is up to the Montana Supreme Court to determine what actions will be taken.
This information is intended to inform you about Montana Law generally, it is not intended as advice. You are encourage to speak to an attorney regarding the specifics of your situation.