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End-of-life notice: American Legal Ethics Library

As of March 1, 2013, the Legal Information Institute is no longer maintaining the information in the American Legal Ethics Library. It is no longer possible for us to maintain it at a level of completeness and accuracy given its staffing needs. It is very possible that we will revive it at a future time. At this point, it is in need of a complete technological renovation and reworking of the "correspondent firm" model which successfully sustained it for many years.

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Tennessee Rules of Professional Conduct


Comment - Rule 1.2

Allocation of Authority between Client and Lawyer

[1] Both lawyer and client have authority and responsibility in the objectives and means of the representation. The client has ultimate authority to determine the purposes to be served by legal representation, within the limits imposed by law and the lawyer’s professional obligations. Also, the decisions specified in paragraph (a), such as whether to settle a civil matter, must be made by the client. Other decisions may be made by the lawyer pursuant to the lawyer’s implied authority to take action necessary to carry out the representation, subject to the lawyer’s duty to keep the client reasonably informed about the status of the representation. See RPC 1.4. A clear distinction between objectives and means sometimes cannot be drawn, and in many cases the client-lawyer relationship partakes of a joint undertaking. In questions of means, for example, the lawyer normally will assume responsibility for technical and legal tactical issues, but the lawyer usually will defer to the client regarding such questions as the expense to be incurred and concern for third persons who might be adversely affected. Law defining the lawyer’s scope of authority in litigation varies among jurisdictions.

[2] Paragraph (a) recognizes that clients normally defer to the special knowledge and skill of their lawyer. At the same time, a lawyer is not required to pursue objectives or employ means simply because a client may instruct the lawyer do so. Although a lawyer, as an agent, normally must abide by the client’s instructions with respect to the representation, a lawyer may always refuse to engage in conduct that the lawyer reasonably believes to be unlawful or prohibited by the Rules of Professional Conduct and may take action that the lawyer reasonably believes to be required by law or the Rules of Professional Conduct. Also, if a lawyer has a fundamental disagreement with the client about the client’s objectives or the means to be used to accomplish them, the lawyer may withdraw from the representation. See RPC 1.16.

[3] Communication between the lawyer and the client is necessary for the client to effectively participate in decisions relating to client’s representation. The lawyer must, therefore, keep the client reasonably informed about the lawyer’s actions on behalf of the client. See RPC 1.4.

[4] At the outset of a representation, the client may authorize the lawyer to take action on the client’s behalf without further consultation. Ordinarily, a lawyer may rely on such an advance authorization. The client may, however, revoke such authority at any time, and a lawyer may not rely on an advance authorization if there has been such a material change in the circumstances known to the lawyer that the client’s prior authorization can no longer be regarded as an adequately informed decision.

[5] In a case in which the client appears to have a mental disability, the lawyer’s duty to abide by the client’s decisions is to be guided by reference to Rule 1.14.

Independence from Client's Views or Activities

[6] Legal representation should not be denied to people who are unable to afford legal services, or whose cause is controversial or the subject of popular disapproval. By the same token, representing a client does not constitute approval of the client’s views or activities.

Agreements Limiting the Scope of the Representation

[7] The scope of services to be provided by a lawyer may be limited by agreement with the client or by the terms under which the lawyer’s services are made available to the client. When a lawyer has been retained by an insurer to represent an insured, for example, the representation may be limited to matters related to the insurance coverage. A limited representation may be appropriate because the client has limited objectives for the representation. In addition, the terms upon which representation is undertaken may exclude specific means that might otherwise be used to accomplish the client’s objectives. Such agreements limiting the scope of a representation may preclude the lawyer from taking actions that the client thinks are too costly or may permit the lawyer to refrain from taking action that the lawyer regards as repugnant or imprudent. [Amended by order filed April 29, 2003.]

[8] Although this Rule affords the lawyer and client substantial latitude to limit the representation, the limitation must be reasonable under the circumstances. If, for example, a client’s objective is limited to securing general information about the law the client needs in order to handle a common and typically uncomplicated legal problem, the lawyer and client may agree that the lawyer’s services will be limited to a brief telephone consultation. Such a limitation, however, would not be reasonable if the time allotted was not sufficient to yield advice upon which the client could rely. Although an agreement for a limited representation does not exempt a lawyer from the duty to provide competent representation, the limitation is a factor to be considered when determining the legal knowledge, skill, thoroughness, and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation. See RPC 1.1.

[9] Other agreements concerning a lawyer’s representation of a client must accord with the Rules of Professional Conduct and other law. See, e.g., RPCs 1.1, 1.8, and 5.6.

Criminal, Fraudulent and Prohibited Transactions

[10] Paragraph (d) prohibits a lawyer from counseling or assisting a client to engage in conduct that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know is criminal or fraudulent. This prohibition, however, does not preclude the lawyer from giving an honest opinion about the actual consequences that appear likely to result from a client’s conduct. Nor does the fact that a client uses advice in a course of action that is criminal or fraudulent of itself make a lawyer a party to the course of action. There is a critical distinction between presenting an analysis of legal aspects of questionable conduct and recommending the means by which a crime or fraud might be committed with impunity.

[11] When the client’s course of action has already begun and is continuing, the lawyer’s responsibility is especially delicate. The lawyer may be permitted, but is not required, by Rule 1.6 to reveal the client’s wrongdoing. In any case, however, the lawyer is required to avoid furthering the purpose, for example, by suggesting how it might be concealed. A lawyer may not continue assisting a client in conduct that the lawyer originally supposed was legally proper but then discovers is criminal or fraudulent. The lawyer must, therefore, withdraw from the representation of the client in the matter. See RPC 1.16(a).

[12] Where the client is a fiduciary, the lawyer may be charged with special obligations in dealings with a beneficiary.

[13] Paragraph (d) applies whether or not the defrauded party is a party to the transaction. Hence, a lawyer must not participate in a sham transaction; for example, a transaction to effectuate criminal or fraudulent escape of tax liability. Paragraph (d) does not preclude undertaking a criminal defense incident to a general retainer for legal services to a lawful enterprise. The last clause of paragraph (d) recognizes that determining the validity or interpretation of a statute or regulation may require a course of action involving disobedience of the statute or regulation or of the interpretation placed upon it by governmental authorities.

[14] If a lawyer comes to know or reasonably should know that a client expects assistance not permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law, or if the lawyer intends to act contrary to the client’s instructions, the lawyer must consult with the client regarding the limitations on the lawyer’s conduct. See RPC 1.4.