Responsibilities of Lawyers and Clients


Every lawyer's actions are controlled by personal judgment, experience, the law, and court rules.  Michigan lawyers are also bound by the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct.  If a lawyer's conduct falls below the standards stet forth in the Rules of Professional Conduct, the Michigan State Bar can discipline him or her.

A lawyer is also bound by the civil and criminal laws of the land, but because of the special position of trust and confidence in a lawyer/client relationship, lawyers may also be punished for things which are not illegal--such as telling others confidential information about a client or having a conflict of interest with a client.  A number of strict rules and common sense guidelines define these responsibilities.

  • Competence.  Every lawyer must aim to provide high quality work following the client's decisions.  A lawyer should advise a client of possible actions, even strongly urge a course of action, then acting according to the client's choice of action--even if the lawyer would have picked a different route. 
  • Diligence.  Every lawyer has a duty to act carefully and as quickly as possible in handling a client's legal problem.
  • Communication.  A lawyer has a duty to communicate effectively with a client.
  • Fees.  The amount the lawyer charges for legal work must be "reasonable" in relation to the services provided.
  • Confidentiality.  A lawyer may not tell anyone else what a client reveals about a case (with certain exceptions for potentially dangerous situations).  This is called "attorney/client privilege."
  • Conflicts of Interest.  The Rules of Professional Conduct require a lawyer to be loyal to a client.  That means that a lawyer cannot represent two clients who are on opposite sides in the same or two related lawsuits unless both clients give permission.  For example, a lawyer cannot represent a client whose interests conflict with the lawyer's interest such as drafting a will for a client who is leaving the lawyer property in the will.
  • Keeping a client's property.  If a lawyer holds a client's money or property, it must be kept safely and separately from the lawyer's own funds or property.  A lawyer must provide an accounting of your property or money upon your request.


A good lawyer/client relationship involves cooperation on both sides.  As a client, you should do all you can to make sure you get the best possible legal help.  To do so, you must hold up your end of the responsibilities. 

  • Be honest.  Tell all the facts, good and bad, to your lawyer.
  • Notify your lawyer of changes.  Tell the lawyer promptly about any change or new information that may affect your case.  This includes letting your lawyer know if and why you are unhappy with his or her work.
  • Ask for clarification.  If you have any questions or are confused about something in your case, ask your lawyer for an explanation.
  • Be realistic.  There are two sides to every dispute.  A lawyer can only handle your legal affairs.  Also, keep in mind that most legal matters cannot be resolved overnight; give the system time to work.
  • Pay.  A client has a duty to promptly pay a fair and reasonable price for legal services.  When a client fails to pay, the lawyer may have the right to stop working further on the case.  Still, the lawyer must then do whatever is reasonably possible to prevent the client's case of being harmed.