Robert F. Cochran, John M.A. DiPippa and Martha M. Peters wrote a brilliant article which summarized the various roles lawyers can play with their clients and, surprisingly, it seems that most clients even have a preference for each particular “style” of representation in different circumstances. They are: 1) Lawyer as Godfather; 2) Lawyer as Guru; 3) Lawyer as “Hired Gun”; and 4) Lawyer as Friend.
“Lawyer as Godfather” is attorney-dominated, where the client spells out the facts and circumstances for the attorney, and the attorney selects which facts are most important, which goals shall serve as the primary goals for the representation, and at which point to resolve the case for the client when recovery has been maximized (in the eyes of the attorney). In this circumstance, the client’s judgment takes a complete back seat to the attorney’s judgment as it pertains to the ultimate goals of the case. While the attorney’s professional judgment regarding procedural matters and strengths and weaknesses of the case should always be considered and ultimately deferred to, the attorney should not be vested with such authority so as to unilaterally conclude a matter without the client’s input.
“Lawyer as Guru,” is the second form of attorney-dominated representation where the attorney is seen as the ultimate expert on each issue posed, and the client almost uniformly relies on the attorney’s counsel or advice, with little or no questioning or explanation desired. Again, while the attorney’s expertise on procedural matters and legal issues should always be given the appropriate weight and deference, a client is free to seek a second opinion and should always be weary of their proposed “Guru.” While there’s no doubt that this could prove to be somewhat impractical and cost prohibitive in some situations, the client should be aware of the guiding principle that no one legal professional can know everything. Perhaps some healthy debate or just playing “Devil’s Advocate” on some of the issues of your case might tease out some discussion that might just illustrate how much your legal expert really does know (or doesn’t).
“Lawyer as Hired Gun” is almost entirely client-dominated, where the attorney is simply acting strictly on behalf of the client and is almost entirely divorcing himself from professional judgment, for better or worse. If the client is willing to pay, the lawyer is willing to act – no questions asked. This is almost always best demonstrated by the lawyer who is paid to file endless motions against an adverse party just to “tie them up in court” at their client’s behest. This lawyer walks a fine line and, arguably, his pocketbook outweighs any ethical considerations he swore to uphold. A client should also be weary of this type of representation to the extent they’re being told what they want to hear just to keep up their monthly retainer.
“Lawyer as Friend” is generally the most preferred form of attorney representation and is viewed as “client-driven,” rather than “client-dominated.” In this type of relationship, the attorney advises and informs the client, drawing out their preferred goals and providing a range of potential outcomes so that the client can make the best-informed decisions. This particular type of relationship is also least likely to “blow back” on the attorney if a less than optimal result is reached. Here, the client is advised of all possible – and realistic – options so that they can make their own best decisions. For example, if a client is properly advised of the risks of trial, they may make a truly informed decision to forego all previous settlement offers and decide on their own if a “bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.”
This type of representation also fits most neatly with Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct 1.1 regarding lawyer competence and 1.4 regarding lawyer communication. It should also be known that Georgia lawyers are governed by numerous ethical rules and regulations on client communication, competence, client counseling, and advocacy. For more information on Georgia Rules of Ethical Conduct governing your attorney’s practice, visit www.gabar.org
While there’s plenty of resources available for the prospective client, such checking for a lawyer’s disciplinary history (or lack of), the client has to make their own judgment call during their initial interview. Did the lawyer adequately answer all your questions? Did you leave his or her office feeling like you more fully understood the legal issues presented by your case? Did you leave knowing more about how his or her legal fee structure than how your case might play out? Were you even permitted to talk? Or did he just simply look to “make you an offer you couldn’t refuse?”