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Who Has the Final Say,

the Client or the Lawyer?

When there is a difference of opinion between an attorney and a client, there are not always black and white answers. But the NC State Bar has rules that specify the appropriate course of action in response to some of the most common ethical dilemmas. This article is about North Carolina family law matters.

Clients Decide: Objectives and the Process

A lawyer must abide by a client’s objectives of representation. Client goals must be respected, so long as those goals are legal (and ethically sound). For example, the client may choose whether to file a lawsuit for paternity testing. Another decision reserved by the client is the process to be used in moving forward with the case. The lawyer may advise a client to litigate a case, which means filing a lawsuit. However, the client might decide when to do that, or whether to pursue mediation instead. The client is entitled to decide what to do in response to an offer. Clients may accept or reject an offer, ignore it or make a counter-offer. The lawyer must take all offers of settlement to the client, even if the lawyer does not believe the offer is a good one.

Lawyers Decide: Ethics   

The attorney must take immediate action if directed to do things that violate the mandatory NC Rules of Professional Conduct or the law, even if it is against the client’s wishes. An attorney cannot commit fraud or help a client to commit fraud, or any illegal action. The Rules do not allow frivolous lawsuits, even if a client demands it. Each time a lawyer signs a document, it is a certification that the attorney has read the document and that it is factually correct to the best of his or her knowledge. It also means the case is not filed “for any improper purpose, such as to harass or to cause unnecessary delay or needless increase in the cost of litigation.” Rule 11 of the Rules of Civil Procedure. A lawyer cannot advise a client to violate the law or a court order. He or she may advise the client about the consequences of doing so.

What if We Don’t Agree?

In most cases, clients are free to make their own decisions, even if the lawyer has advised against it. However, if there is a strong enough difference of opinion with serious consequences, an attorney may choose to terminate the attorney-client relationship. If there is a pending lawsuit, the attorney may choose to file a motion to be relieved as the attorney. The reverse of this is also true, a client may choose to terminate the attorney-client relationship.

Our attorneys are licensed only in North Carolina.(c) 

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