Law is a system of rules that are enforced through social institutions to govern behaviour. Laws can be made by a collective legislature or by a single legislator, resulting in statutes, by the executive through decrees and regulations, or by judges through binding precedent, normally in common law jurisdictions.
The Future of Law-predicts fundamental and irreversible changes in the world of law. What Susskind sees is eye-opening-a legal world of virtual courts, Internet-based global legal businesses, online document production, commoditized service, legal process outsourcing, and web-based simulated practice. Legal markets will be liberalized, with new jobs for lawyers and new employers too. Tomorrow’s Lawyers is a definitive guide to this future–for young and aspiring lawyers, and for all who want to modernize our legal and justice systems. It introduces the new legal landscape and offers practical guidance for those who intend to build careers and businesses in law. Susskind identifies the key drivers of change, such as the economic downturn, and considers how these will shape the legal marketplace. He then sketches out the new legal landscape as he envisions it, highlighting the changing role of law firms-and in-house lawyers-and the coming of virtual hearings and online dispute resolution. He also suggests solutions to major concerns within the legal profession, such as diminishing public funding, and explores alternative roles for future lawyers in a world increasingly dominated by IT.
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The attorney-client privilege is a rule that preserves the confidentiality of communications between lawyers and clients. Under that rule, attorneys may not divulge their clients’ secrets, nor may others force them to. The purpose of the privilege is to encourage clients to openly share information with their lawyers and to let lawyers provide effective representation. Virtual law practice is revolutionizing the way the public receives legal services and how legal professionals work with clients. Stephanie Kimbro’s practical guide teaches lawyers how to set up and run a virtual law firm. It provides case studies of individual.
The Client’s Privilege
Generally, the attorney-client privilege applies when:
- a client (actual or prospective) communicates with a lawyer regarding legal advice
- the lawyer is acting in a professional capacity (rather than, for example, as a friend), and
- the client intended the communications to be private and acted accordingly.
Lawyers may not reveal communications with clients (oral or written) that clients reasonably expect to remain private. A lawyer who has received a client’s confidences cannot repeat them to anyone outside the legal team without the client’s consent. In that sense, the privilege is the client’s, not the lawyer’s—the client can decide to forfeit (or waive) the privilege, but the lawyer cannot.
The privilege stays in effect even after the attorney-client relationship ends, and even after the client dies. In other words, the lawyer can never divulge the client’s secrets without the client’s permission, unless some kind of exception (see below) applies. (United States v. White, 970 F.2d 328 (7th Cir. 1992); Swidler & Berlin v. United States, 524 U.S. 399 (1998).)
In Contrast: The Duty of Confidentiality
The attorney-client privilege is, strictly speaking, a rule of evidence. It prevents lawyers from testifying about, and from being forced to testify about, their clients’ statements. Independent of that privilege, lawyers also owe their clients a duty of confidentiality. The duty of confidentiality prevents lawyers from even informally discussing information related to their clients’ cases with others. They must keep private almost all information related to representation of the client, even if that information didn’t come from the client.
The Expectation of Confidentiality
Lawyer-client communications are covered by the attorney-client privilege only if the circumstances lend themselves to confidentiality. For example, clients who speak to their lawyers about pending lawsuits in private, with no one else present, can reasonably expect secrecy. If someone were to surreptitiously record the conversation, that recording would probably be inadmissible in court.
But a client who speaks to a lawyer in public wouldn’t be able to prevent someone who overheard the conversation from testifying about it. Similarly, a client can forfeit the attorney-client privilege by repeating a conversation with an attorney to someone else, or by having a third person present during a conversation with the lawyer. No matter who hears or learns about a communication, however, the lawyer remains obligated not to repeat it. (See Does eavesdropping destroy the attorney-client privilege? and If I tell someone something I told my lawyer, is it still confidential?)
Actual Clients Only?
Preliminary communications between a potential client and a lawyer are typically subject to the attorney-client privilege. That means that lawyers can’t disclose what prospective clients reveal in confidence even if the lawyers never ends up representing them. (In re Auclair, 961 F.2d 65 (5th Cir. 1992).) To be sure, though, you should confirm with a prospective lawyer that the privilege applies before you reveal anything you want to keep secret.
Past and Future Misbehavior
Discussions of previous acts are generally subject to the attorney-client privilege. If, for example, if a client tells his lawyer that he robbed a bank, killed someone, or lied about assets during a divorce, the lawyer probably can’t disclose the information.
But if a client initiates a communication with a lawyer for the purpose of committing a crime or an act of fraud in the future, the attorney-client privilege doesn’t apply. Likewise, most states allow—or require—attorneys to disclose information learned from a client that will prevent death or serious injury. Many have a similar rule where revealing otherwise confidential information would prevent or remedy financial injury due to a crime or fraud.
(For more detail, see The Crime-Fraud Exception to the Attorney-Client Privilege.)
Example: In a civil suit regarding allegedly stolen funds, the judge orders the defense to turn over to the plaintiff documentation of conversations between the defendant and his attorney. The defense argues that the attorney-client privilege applies, and that the documents are protected. But the documents relate to plans between the defendant and the attorney to misappropriate funds belonging to the plaintiff. Because the communications were for the purpose of committing fraud, they aren’t privileged. (Both v. Frantz, 278 Ga. App. 556 (2006).)
Example: A client calls his divorce lawyer and tells the lawyer that he plans to kill his wife’s boyfriend. After getting off the phone, the lawyer calls the police and reports the client’s statement. But before the police can find him, the client kills the boyfriend. Because the state ethics code permitted the lawyer to disclose the information in question, the lawyer was allowed to report the client’s statements. In addition, the lawyer’s report of the statements is admissible at the defendant’s trial. (Shorter v. State, 33 So. 3d 512 (Miss. Ct. App. 2009).)
The attorney-client privilege differs somewhat from state to state, and between state and federal court. When speaking to an attorney about a legal matter, make sure to go over the scope of the attorney-client privilege and the duty of confidentiality. The lawyer should be able to advise you of the applicable law and address any pertinent areas not covered in this article.
The trouble with most “Top Ten Songs about the Law” lists is that they’re unfocused. You’ll find tales of legal woes (“I Fought the Law,” by Bobby Fuller) mixed in with brushes with legal authority (“Alice’s Restaurant,” by Arlo Guthrie or “I Shot the Sheriff,” by Bob Marley), along with true tales of legal injustice (“Hurricane,” by Bob Dylan), litigation metaphors (“Sue Me,” from the musical Guys & Dolls), tales of incarceration (“Jailhouse Rock,” by Elvis or “Folsom Prison Blues,” by Johnny Cash), and let’s not forget old-fashioned heavy metal insanity (“Breaking the Law,” by Judas Priest).
What we’re looking for are songs that are just about lawyers. We understand that songwriters are generally not inclined to sing about their legal representation (although we did find one composition simply titled, “I’ve Got a Lawyer”). That’s not to say composers have avoided the subject completely. A search of the repertoire at BMI and ASCAP–the two major song licensors–uncovered over 100 songs with the word “lawyer” or “attorney” in the title. These include songs with an agrarian angle (“The Lawyer and the Cow,” “The Lawyer and the Farmer”), an anti-lawyer stance (“Lawyers Suck,” “Lawyers Screw It Up,” “Lawyers and Leeches,” “Lawyer Liar Blues”), romance (“Lawyer’s Love Song”), gratitude (“A Lawyer Saved My Life”), absurdity (“Lawyers Are Like Bananas,” “Lawyers and White Paper,” “Lawyers on Acid”), dancing (“Lawyer’s Hoedown”), wishful thinking, (“I Would Have Made a Good Lawyer”), religion (“Lawyers Prayer”), antagonism (“Lawyer Up”) and our personal favorite, “Lawyers on Parade.” Need a Lawyer? LegalMatch allows you to present your case, and respond only to lawyers who want to help you. It’s Free & Confidential.
We’ve sorted through them all. Below are our ten favorites. Sure, some of them may not be as well known as “Thriller,” and the artists might not be as popular as Britney or Bruce, but don’t let that stop you from appreciating the sharp legal analysis and deep appreciation for the legal profession that these tunes possess. In no particular order:
My Attorney Bernie — A bebop pianist with a knack for humorous lyrics and jazzy melodies, composer/singer Dave Frishberg created the ultimate paean to the legal profession with this oft-covered composition. Bernie the attorney has got a lot going for him, including “Dodger season boxes and an office full of foxes.” He may not be a perfect lawyer (“Sure we blew a couple ventures with a counterfeit debenture”) but when it comes down to the important stuff, “Bernie tells me what to do, Bernie always lays it on the line. Bernie says we sue, we sue; Bernie says we sign, we sign.”
Talk to My Lawyer — Chuck Brodsky is known amongst folk literati for his barbed wit, his groove-oriented guitar style, and his songs about baseball players (eleven Brodsky songs are in the Baseball Hall of Fame). Brodsky’s “Talk to My Lawyer” is accurate, businesslike, and a bit one-sided in its focus on personal injury (“I’m gonna talk to my lawyer. I think I’ve got a pretty good case. All I need are some crutches; maybe put on a neck brace. I’ve got a witness to put a hand on the Bible. Jury jury, hallelujah you might be liable.”) Whether or not he gets it exactly right, Brodsky’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics probably reflect the reality of contingency fee practice.
Lawyers In Love — For sheer weirdness, Jackson Browne’s 1983 composition, “Lawyers in Love” seems to baffle everyone who hears it. (“Among the human beings in their designer jeans, am I the only one who hears the screams, and the strangled cries of lawyers in love.”). Browne convincingly belts out this folk-rock classic, complaining about eating from TV trays while watchingHappy Days, and in the final verse, discourses on how the U.S.S.R. will soon be a “vacationland for lawyers in love.” Hmm? Although Browne himself hints that the song is a critique of political complacency, we prefer to focus on its verification that attorneys are capable of amore.
The Philadelphia Lawyer (also known as Reno Blues) — Speaking of lawyers in love, in 1949, folk musician Woody Guthrie wrote a ballad loosely based on a true story. A romantic Philly attorney attempts to talk his paramour (a Hollywood maid) into leaving her husband, a cowboy named Bill. Alas, Bill overhears the pair talking and the result is murder One. Guthrie concludes his song, “Now tonight back in old Pennsylvania, among those beautiful pines, there’s one less Philadelphia lawyer in old Philadelphia tonight.”
Legal Man — Belle & Sebastian, a Scottish band whose music was featured in the film, High Fidelity, released “Legal Man,” in 2000. With its retro-sound reminiscent of sixties groups such as Love, “Legal Man” analogizes to contract law as a means of enforcing a romantic commitment (“Notwithstanding provisions of clauses 1,2,3, and 4; Extend contractual period, me and you for evermore.”) The song ends with the repeating advice to Legal Man, “Get out of the office and into the springtime.” All in all, that’s solid advice–unless one has a summary judgment brief due in the springtime.
California Sex Lawyer – This one’s a tale of wish fulfillment from Fountains of Wayne (a band that got its name from a New Jersey lawn ornaments store). The song portrays a young man named Doug who plans to become a California “sex lawyer,” a specialty that’s apparently not covered in most law school curriculums. According to Doug, he’s got the makings of this particular discipline: “I’ve got big ideas. I’ve got back up plans. I’ve got the cha-cha-charisma. Got the sleight of hand. I’m gunna do some damage. Gunna bust some heads. I’m gunna go the distance. Then I’m going to bed.” Sounds like a plan; we’re just not sure how Doug’s malpractice carrier will respond.
We Love Our Lawyers — We may have misheard the lyrics but the only vaguely decipherable phrase in this bouncy Latin-flavored jazz song appears to be the repeating phrase “cosign.” Inscrutability is nothing new for Cibo Matto, the creators, as the bulk of their songs are about food (the band’s name is Italian for “crazy food”). Even though singing about lawyers is a bit far afield for this group (and the song lacks any serious legal content), the exuberance of “We Love Our Lawyers,” combined with its devoted title, ultimately sends an upbeat message that wins this one top ten placement.
One Million Lawyers — In 1985, folk singer Tom Paxton released “One Million Lawyers,” based on the prediction that the United States would have that many lawyers within a decade. Apparently, Paxton viewed this as a bad thing (the title of the album wasOne Million Lawyers and Other Disasters) and wrote, “Lawyers around every bend in the road. Lawyers in every tree. Lawyers in restaurants. Lawyers in clubs. Lawyers behind every door. Behind windows and potted plants, shade trees and shrubs. Lawyers on pogo sticks. Lawyers in politics. In ten years we’re gonna have one million lawyers. How much can a poor nation stand?” Paxton may have had some justification for his paranoia, but twenty years later we know one thing: He was wrong about the pogo sticks.
My Dad’s a Lawyer — Some might find this track a bit overbearing — what with bad-boy folkie Geoff Berner’s taunting tenor and the honking accordion he uses for accompaniment. But those elements actually add to the song’s message as Berner goads listeners, “You don’t like the way I sing. Go ahead take a swing cause my dad’s a lawyer.” This track has us conflicted; on the one hand we don’t like the mocking encouragement to litigation; on the other hand, we’re glad to see family pride in the legal profession.
Will Your Lawyer Talk to God For You? — With its old-timey steel pedal guitar and Wells’ classic country vocal, this track poses a cosmological dilemma for many in the legal business — or as Kitty puts it when asked to sign the divorce papers, “Man-made laws set you free on earth but is God satisfied? Will your lawyer talk to God for you?” This simple country and Western tune is the only one on our list to make BillBoard’s Top Ten (1962). By the way, Wells’ attorney never had to discuss divorce with the Almighty. She may have had the longest celebrity marriage in history having been married to country singer Johnnie Wright for over seventy years.
Most problems that people have with their lawyers fall into four categories: communication problems, competence problems, ethical problems, and fee problems. It’s rare, however, that clients have just one problem — usually, problems spill over into two or more categories.
Here are some basic rules on what you have a right to expect from your lawyer in each of these areas.
Communication problems can cause you to think you have a bad lawyer when you don’t, or that your lawyer is doing a bad job when she isn’t.
Your lawyer should give you a basic description of your legal matter and let you know what problems to expect, how they’ll be handled, and when things will happen. And of course, your lawyer should promptly return phone calls and answer your questions — basic courtesies that many lawyers commonly ignore because they are so busy.
It’s a big shock to most people that there is no guarantee of competence when you hire a lawyer. Sure, all lawyers have passed a bar exam, but one test, given at the very beginning of a lawyer’s career, isn’t all that significant. And if you complain to a bar association that your lawyer is incompetent, all you are likely to get in return is a shrug. Bar associations go after lawyers who steal or violate specific ethical rules — not lawyers who just aren’t very good.
If, however, your lawyer makes a mistake in handling your legal matter that no reasonable attorney would have made and you lost money because of it, it is called malpractice, and you can sue. The mistake can be a failure to do something, such as not filing a lawsuit on time, or doing something the lawyer should not have done, such as representing a business in bankruptcy while representing an investor negotiating to buy the business. Malpractice suits, unfortunately, are expensive to bring and tough to win.For more information, see Suing Your Lawyer for Malpractice.
Each state has ethical laws that bind lawyers. Commonly, these rules require lawyers to:
- represent their clients with undivided loyalty
- keep their clients’ confidences
- represent their clients competently
- represent their clients within the bounds of the law, and
- put their clients’ interests ahead of their own.
Each state has a lawyer discipline agency that is supposed to enforce these rules. If a lawyer violates a rule, the agency can impose monetary fines, require the lawyer to make restitution (such as pay back stolen money), suspend a lawyer’s license to practice law for a while, or disbar the attorney. disbarment, however, is exceedingly rare, and is usually reserved for lawyers with a long record of stealing from clients.
Lawyers’ bills, unsurprisingly, are one of the most common areas of contention with clients. Most complaints sound like one of the following:
- My bill is too high, and it’s not what we agreed to.
- My bill isn’t itemized. I have no idea what my lawyer claims to have done to earn it, and she won’t discuss it with me.
- My attorney did a terrible job, and I don’t want to pay a big bill.
- My attorney billed me top dollar for her time when I know a paralegal did most of the work.
- My attorney padded his bill — he billed me 30 minutes for every two-minute phone call, even when I called to protest earlier overbilling.
When you hire a lawyer, make sure that your fee agreement is in writing. That’s the law in some states, and it’s always a good idea. The agreement should specify how often you will be billed and should obligate the lawyer to provide an itemized statement. If you’ve agreed to pay your lawyer a contingency fee (the lawyer collects only if you win), be sure you know exactly how the fee is calculated and who pays for costs that arise while the lawsuit is in progress. For further information, see Attorney’s Fees: The Basics and Creating a Fee Agreement With Your Lawyer.
If your legal problem is complex or involves lots of money, you might not want to attempt to handle the entire matter without a lawyer. After all, lawyers do more than dispense legal information. They offer strategic advice and apply sophisticated technical skills to legal problems. Ideally, you’ll be able to find a lawyer who’s willing to serve as your legal “coach” to help you educate yourself to the maximum extent possible and to take over as your formal legal counsel only if necessary.
How to Find the Right Lawyer
Locating a good lawyer who can efficiently help with your particular problem may not be easy. Don’t expect to locate a good lawyer by simply looking in the phone book or reading an advertisement. There’s not enough information in these sources to help you make a valid judgment.
A better approach is to talk to people in your community who have experienced the same problem you face — for example, if you have a claim of sexual harassment, talk to a women’s group. Ask them who their lawyers were and what they think of them. If you talk to half a dozen people who have had a similar legal problem, chances are you’ll come away with several good leads.
But don’t make a decision about a lawyer solely on the basis of someone else’s recommendation. Different people will have different responses to a lawyer’s style and personality; don’t make up your mind about hiring a lawyer until you’ve met the lawyer, discussed your case, and decided that you feel comfortable working with him or her.
Also, it may be hard to find lawyer through a personal referral with the expertise you need (for instance, if your friend had a great divorce lawyer, but you need incorporation advice, the referral may not do you much good).
Many sites, including Nolo.com, offer a way to connect with local lawyers based on your location and the type of legal case you have. You answer a few questions about your case and your contact information, then the right type of lawyers contact you directly. Talk to a local lawyer.
Nolo’s Lawyer Directory
Nolo offers a unique lawyer directory that provides a comprehensive profile for each attorney with information that will help you select the right attorney. The profiles tell you about the lawyer’s experience, education, and fees, and perhaps most importantly, the lawyer’s general philosophy of practicing law. Nolo has confirmed that every listed attorney has a valid license and is in good standing with their bar association.
Businesses who provide services to key players in the legal area you are interested in may also be able to help you identify lawyers you should consider. For example, if you are interested in small business law, speak to your banker, accountant, insurance agent, and real estate broker. These people come into frequent contact with lawyers who represent business clients and are in a position to make informed judgments.
Lawyer Referral Services
Lawyer referral services are another source of information. There is a wide variation in the quality of lawyer referral services, however, even though they are required to be approved by the state bar association. Some lawyer referral services carefully screen attorneys and list only those attorneys with particular qualifications and a certain amount of past experience, while other services will list any attorney in good standing with the state bar who maintains liability insurance. Before you choose a lawyer referral service, ask what its qualifications are for including an attorney and how carefully lawyers are screened.
What you may not get from any lawyer referral service, however, is insight into the lawyer’s philosophy — for instance, whether the lawyer is willing to spend a few hours to be your legal coach or how aggressive the lawyer’s personality is.
Here are a few other sources you can turn to for possible candidates in your search for a lawyer:
- The director of your state or local chamber of commerce may be a good source of business lawyers.
- The director of a nonprofit group interested in the subject matter that underlies your lawsuit is sure to know lawyers who work in that area. For example, if your dispute involves trying to stop a major new subdivision, it would make sense to consult an environmental group committed to fighting urban sprawl.
- A law librarian can help identify authors in your state who have written books or articles on a particular subject — for example, construction law.
- A women’s or men’s support group will probably have a list of well-regarded family and divorce lawyers.
Consider a Specialist
Most lawyers specialize in certain areas, and even a so-called “general practitioner” may not know that much about the particular area of your concern. For example, of the almost one million lawyers in America today, probably fewer than 50,000 possess sufficient training and experience in small business law to be of real help to an aspiring entrepreneur.
It can pay to work with a lawyer who already knows the field, such as employment discrimination, zoning laws, software design issues, or restaurant licensing. That way you can take advantage of the fact that the lawyer is already far up the learning curve. Sometimes specialists charge a little more, but if their specialized information is truly valuable, it can be money well spent.
Interview the Prospective Lawyers
When you get the names of several good prospects, the next step is to talk to each personally. If you outline your needs in advance, many lawyers will be willing to meet to you for a half-hour or so at no charge so that you can size them up and make an informed decision.
Pay particular attention to the personal chemistry between you and your lawyer. No matter how experienced and well-recommended a lawyer is, if you feel uncomfortable with that person during your first meeting or two, you may never achieve an ideal lawyer-client relationship. Trust your instincts and seek a lawyer whose personality is compatible with your own. Look also for experience, personal rapport, and accessibility.
Communication and Promptness
Ask all prospective lawyers how you will be able to contact them and how long it will take them to return your communications. And don’t assume that because the lawyer seems friendly and easy to talk to that it’s okay to overlook this step.
Unfortunately, the complaint logs of all lawyer regulatory groups indicate that many lawyers are terrible communicators. If every time you have a problem there’s a delay of several days before you can talk to your lawyer on the phone or get an appointment, you’ll lose precious time, not to mention sleep.
Almost nothing is more aggravating to a client than to leave a legal project in a lawyer’s hands and then have weeks or even months go by without anything happening. You want a lawyer who will work hard on your behalf and follow through promptly on all assignments.
Willingness to Work With You
When you have a legal problem, you need legal information. Lawyers, of course, are prime sources of this information, but if you bought all the needed information at their rates — $150 to $450 an hour — you’d quickly empty your bank account. Fortunately, many lawyers will work with you to help you acquire a good working knowledge of the legal principles and procedures you need to deal with your problem at least partly on your own.
If you are hoping to represent yourself and use a lawyer only for advice, make sure the lawyer is open to that type of set-up. Likewise, if you’re going into business and will draft your own bylaws or business agreements, ask the lawyer if she’s open to reviewing your drafts and making comments.
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