The Lawyer as Advocate and Counselor

Greg Boles
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Partner at The Boles Firm | Experience Matters

Lawyers play two roles when they represent a client in a workers' compensation case or a personal injury case.  The first role is as the client's advocate.  Under the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct, an attorney has an obligation to represent his client zealously.  This means that when interacting with an opponent or presenting the case in court, the lawyer has to push your case as zealously as possible, emphasizing the strong aspects of your case while placing the weaknesses of your case in proper perspective.  The attorney on the other side does exactly the opposite.  The hope is that through the clash of zealous advocates, the truth will emerge.

The lawyer also plays a second role as your counselor.  As a counselor, the lawyer has a completely different ethical obligation.  While the lawyer should be a cheerleader for you when representing you in court, it is not an appropriate thing for him to do when talking to you in private.  Under the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct,

[a] client is entitled to straightforward advice expressing the lawyer’s honest assessment. Legal advice often involves unpleasant facts and alternatives that a client may be disinclined to confront. In presenting advice, a lawyer endeavors to sustain the client’s morale and may put advice in as acceptable a form as honesty permits. However, a lawyer should not be deterred from giving candid advice by the prospect that the advice will be unpalatable to the client.

In private, the lawyer has to take off your blinders and explain to you the impact of the judge's perspective in your case, the quality of the other lawyer, the strength and weaknesses in the medical evidence of your case, and your strengths and weaknesses as a witness.

Merely because a lawyer is providing you with negative information when acting as your counselor does not mean that your lawyer is anything other than a zealous advocate.  If your lawyer is good (and not trying to make a quick buck), it means only that he is providing you with the information you need to make intelligent decisions about your life.  Do not make the common error of thinking that merely because a lawyer tells you bad news in private, he isn't fighting for you.  

Counselor and advocate are the two different roles lawyers must play.  Understand those roles, and don't mix them up.

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