April 7, 2018

Principles of the Lawyer - Client Relationships

The Supreme Court of India in Himalayan Cooperative Group Housing Society Vs. Balwan Singh dated April 19, 2015 viewed that lawyers are perceived to be their client’s agents.

A bench of Justices H.L. Dattu CJI, S.A. Bobde and Arun Mishra also observed that 
“the law of agency may not strictly apply to the client – lawyer’s relationship as lawyers or agents, lawyers have certain authority and certain duties. Because lawyers are also fiduciaries, their duties will sometimes more demanding than those imposed on other agents.”
Some of the observations in the above Order are given below:

The authority-agency status affords the lawyers to act for the client on the subject matter of the retainer. One of the most basic principles of the lawyer-client relationships is that lawyers owe fiduciary duties to their clients. As part of those duties, lawyers assume all the traditional duties that agents owe their principals and, thus, have to respect the client’s autonomy to make decisions at a minimum, as to the objectives of the representation. Thus, according to generally accepted notions of professional responsibility, lawyers should follow the client’s instructions rather than substitute their judgment for that of the client.

The law is now well settled that a lawyer must be specifically authorised to settle and compromise a claim, that merely on the basis of his employment he has no implied or ostensible authority to bind his client to a compromise/ settlement. To put it alternatively that a lawyer by virtue of retention, has the authority to choose the means for achieving the client’s legal goal, while the client has the right to decide on what the goal will be. If the decision in question falls within those that clearly belong to the client, the lawyers conduct in failing to consult the client or in making the decision for the client, is more likely to constitute ineffective assistance of counsel.

The Bar Council of India Rules, 1975 (for short, “the BCI Rules”), in Part VI, Chapter II provide for the ‘Standards of Professional Conduct and Etiquette’ to be observed by all the advocates under the Advocates Act, 1972 (for short, “the Act, 1972”).

In the preamble to Chapter II, the BCI Rules provide as follows:

“An advocate shall, at all times, comport himself in a manner befitting his status as an officer of the Court, a privileged member of the community, and a gentleman, bearing in mind that what may be lawful and moral for a person who is not a member of the Bar, or for a member of the Bar in his non-professional capacity may still be improper for an advocate. Without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing obligation, an advocate shall fearlessly uphold the interests of his client and in his conduct conform to the rules hereinafter mentioned both in letter and in spirit. The rules hereinafter mentioned contain canons of conduct and etiquette adopted as general guides; yet the specific mention thereof shall not be construed as a denial of the existence of others equally imperative though not specifically mentioned.”

The Preamble makes it imperative that an advocate has to conduct himself and his duties in an extremely responsible manner. They must bear in mind that what may be appropriate and lawful for a person who is not a member of the Bar, or for a member of the Bar in his non-professional capacity, may be improper for an advocate in his professional capacity.
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