20. What do attorneys do?
Areas of Practice – There are dozens of areas of law practice that are largely, if not completely, separate and unrelated. Very few attorneys are experts in more than a couple of legal areas. Below are some common areas of legal practice: Criminal Law, Civil Action (Tort Lawyers), Insurance Litigation, Secured Transactions, Administrative law, Contract law, Consumer Law, International shipping and trade, Immigration law, Intellectual Property law, Antitrust law, Securities law, Banking and Finance Law, Corporate Governments, Environmental law, Land and Property, Labor and Employment, Social Security & Disability, Elder Law, Estate Planning, Worker’s Compensation, Family law, Human Rights, Election law, Sports law, etc.
Duties to Clients – Attorneys are counselors, advocates, and public servants. More specifically, they are fiduciaries and advocates for their clients’ interests and officers of the court. The attorney’s oath of office subjects the attorney to a professional code of ethics that governs all of her professional practice activities. The attorney is generally trained to navigate the legal system. This may involve working within the courtroom. Below are some universal truths about lawyers and those who practice in the courtroom.
• Fiduciaries – Attorneys have a duty of trust, confidentiality, and loyalty to their client. This means that, absent certain exceptions, an attorney cannot disclose confidences related to her by a client. This relationship requires a high degree of professional and ethical conduct. Lawyers are subject to sanction (or even disbarment) for failure to live up to these high ethical standards.
• Court Representation – Individuals may represent themselves or hire a licensed attorney to counsel and represent them before the court. Attorneys must be licensed by and admitted to a court’s bar to represent clients before that body.
• Officers of the Court – Attorneys are officers of the court and are required to seek justice and to try cases on the merits only. While attorneys represent their clients, they have ethical obligations to the court to promote and seek justice. The system is not designed to be a battle of wits, but rather a presentation of evidence for a just decision.
Not all attorneys practice law in a courtroom; however, these standards apply equally to attorneys who provide legal services outside of the courtroom.
• Discussion: Do you think that the majority of the public is aware of all of the specialties that exist in legal practice? Why do you think that there are so many specialty areas of legal practice? Do all of these specialties call into question the professional competence of general practitioners? Do you find any conflict of interest for attorneys who are expected to be officers of the court as well as zealous advocates for their clients?
• Practice Question: Grace has her own legal practice where represents corporations in contract law matters. She primarily works with investment banks to develop and memorialize corporate funding arrangements. One of her biggest clients, ABC, Inc., approaches her about suing a competitor, 123, Inc., in state court for anti-competitive behavior. Grace has very little experience in this area, but she decides to undertake some due diligence in order to adequately advise the client on the situation. From her investigation, she learns that there are really no grounds for a lawsuit against 123. More troubling, however, is Grace learns that ABC has been involved in an on-going scheme that could be considered fraudulent to its shareholders. Grace brings this matter to the attention of the CEO of ABC. The CEO tells her to ignore the shareholder matters and, if she wants to continue representing ABC in other matters, to initiate litigation against 123 immediately. What are the duties and ethical considerations that constrain Grace in this situation?