Businessman holding files against his suit

Representation without Representation?

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The Pennsylvania Office of Disciplinary Counsel has accused a Philadelphia attorney of initiating a high-profile lawsuit without client authorization.

Reportedly, the attorney filed suit on behalf of the father of a deceased boy who was killed by a Philadelphia police officer. However, according to the Disciplinary Board, counsel was never engaged for that purpose.

In the petition [HERE], the board alleges that counsel never met, nor spoke, with his purported client prior to filing. It is an uncomfortable situation that brings up some interesting issues.

It is often fairly easy to define the beginning and end of the attorney-client relationship. However, those lines can be blurry. Is the representation over once a transaction closes? Does a relationship begin with the initial consultation? When does casual advice rise to the level of a legal recommendation? The incident in Pennsylvania highlights the importance of clear communication and effective documentation throughout the life of an attorney’s representation.

There is plenty of competition within the legal industry. Much of that competition can be healthy as it drives attorneys to be more effective and more efficient. Competition can become a problem, however, when it causes an attorney to overpromise or to accept assignments outside of his/her comfort zone. In this somewhat extreme example, the targeted attorney apparently was motivated by a race to the courthouse given that other attorneys were vying for the client’s case. This example serves as a reminder that one of the most important set of decisions an attorney makes is knowing which clients to accept, what clients to reject, and when to disengage.