Introduction to Law

Introduction to Law

In this lesson, you’re expected to learn about:
– the basics of law and lawyers
– the role of lawyers
– the client-lawyer relationship

Law is the system of rules with binding legal force and effect, whether in the form of legislation or custom and policies, established in a community by some authority and applicable to its people.

State-enforced laws can be made by:
· the legislative branch, resulting in statutes;
· the executive branch through decrees and regulations; and
· judges through judicial decisions, called precedents.

Private-enforced laws can be established by individuals who may create legally binding contracts.

NOTE: Law is deeply connected to legal history, philosophy, economic analysis and sociology, and it also raises important and complex issues concerning equality, fairness, ethics, and justice.

[Optional] What is Law?
Watch this 10-minute lecture from the University of London:
Broadly speaking, a lawyer is someone who is learned and trained in law, meaning someone who has gone through Law School.

Lawyers are allowed to give legal advice although they may decide not to practice law.

On the other hand, there are regulatory restrictions on non-lawyers, i.e. paralegals, to practice law.

In practice, each legal jurisdiction determines who is recognized as being a lawyer. As a result, the meaning of a “lawyer” may vary from place to place and similar terms may be adopted:
1) Attorney

The term generally refers to lawyers who have chosen to practice law as a profession. In the U.S., an attorney is the common name for a lawyer and in order to become an attorney there, a graduate from law school must pass the bar exam to become eligible to practice law within a specific jurisdiction.

As an attorney, one is legally qualified and licensed to represent a person in a legal matter, such as a transaction or lawsuit. In this case, it is also called attorney-in-fact.

2) Barrister

In England, a barrister is someone who works at higher levels of court.

They are mostly specialized in courtroom advocacy and litigation, and their main role is to act as advocates in legal hearings, which means that they stand in court and plead the case on behalf of their clients in front of a judge.

3) Solicitor

In England, the solicitors carry on most of the office work in law. Usually a solicitor is one who has more direct access to clients, gives advice, drafts documents, conducts negotiations, prepares cases for trial, and retains barristers for advice before the higher courts.

4) Legal Counsel

A lawyer who mainly does transactional-type legal work. The term usually refers to lawyers who work in the legal department of a company providing legal advisory for the core business areas. In this case, it is also called in-house counsel.

NOTE:  For the purpose of this course, a “practitioner of law” will be treated here as the generic term “lawyer”.
[Optional] Law and the Court System
Watch this 5-minute video about the court system:
Role of lawyer
In order to avoid risks of lawsuits, fines, or other legal penalties, businesses increasingly rely on lawyers not only when they are sued but consult them daily in order to prevent problems from occurring.
The role of lawyers varies greatly across legal jurisdictions and some of their responsibilities are:

1) interpretation of the law
2) application of his/her legal knowledge to provide the needs of his/her client
3) acting as a legal representative of clients in courts, mediations, business transactions and other important legal proceedings or arrangements etc.

Also, sometimes a lawyer can serve as an investigator or negotiator working with the client as well as the opposing side to find the best way to settle a conflict, or even a communicator in the name of his/her client because the lawyer is not emotionally involved in the dispute.

According to the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers” listed by the United Nations Congress, the duties of lawyers towards their clients should include:

· advising clients as to their legal rights and obligations, and as to the working of the legal system in so far as it is relevant to the legal rights and obligations of the clients;

· assisting clients in every appropriate way and taking legal action to protect their interests;

· assisting clients before courts, tribunals or administrative authorities, where appropriate.

It is the lawyer’s responsibility to establish a relationship of trust and confidence with their client, to represent the client to the best of the lawyer’s ability, and to respect the interests of their clients faithfully.
The Lawyer’s Ethical Duties

The ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, created by the American Bar Association (ABA), are a set of rules that prescribe baseline standards of legal ethics and professional responsibility for lawyers in the United States.

For the purpose of this lesson, we will comment on some of those rules as they reflect the standards of legal ethics followed by most countries.
[Optional] The Role of the Lawyer
Read this article from the New Hampshire Bar Association to learn more:
Client-Lawyer Relationship
The relationship of client and lawyer is one of trust and binds a lawyer to the utmost good faith in dealing with his/her client.

The American Bar Association (ABA) Model Rules of Professional Conduct prescribe some rules regarding client-lawyer relationships (Rule 1.1 to 1.18) which includes:

1) Fees (Rule 1.5)

As a rule, a lawyer cannot charge unreasonable fees or fees for work that hasn’t been done. In order to define the legal fees to be charged in a case, lawyers may consider different factors such as:

· time and labor required;
· opportunity cost to the lawyer;
· typical fee in the locality for similar services;
· results obtained;
· time limitations imposed by circumstances;
· length of relationship with client;
· experience and reputation of the lawyer;
· if the fee is fixed or a contingency. *

* NOTE: Contingent fee (or conditional fee) is the fee that is payable only if there is a favorable result and it corresponds to a percentage of the gain realized for the client.
2) Confidentiality of Information (Rule 1.6)

Except when he/she reasonably believes it is necessary, a lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent.

3) Conflict of Interest to Current Clients (Rule 1.7)

A concurrent conflict of interest exists if the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client; or there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or by a personal interest of the lawyer.

4) Conflict of Interest to Former Clients (Rule 1.9)

A lawyer may not represent a new client who is materially adverse to a former client when the subject of the representation is “substantially related” to the lawyer’s prior representation.

5) Duties to Prospective Clients (Rule 1.18)

Even when no client-lawyer relationship ensues, a lawyer who has learned information from a prospective client shall not use or reveal that information.

NOTE: In the US, violation of the ABA’s rules can result in disciplinary sanction, with punishment ranging from reprimand to disbarment i.e. removal of a lawyer from a bar association or the practice of law, thus revoking his or her law license or admission to practice law.
Types of Lawyers

When people think about lawyers, they usually picture the image of an individual who goes to court everyday and stands before a judge defending a client. This is true in some cases; however, there are many different types of lawyers, who are experts in different legal fields, with a variety of job responsibilities and duties such as:

· Corporate Lawyer / Business Lawyer
· Bankruptcy Lawyer
· Immigration Lawyer
· Military Lawyer
· Personal Injury Lawyer
· Criminal Defense Lawyer
· Employment Lawyer
· Environmental Lawyer
· Family Lawyer
What to Consider when Choosing a Lawyer

Once a client has a legal issue, in order to hire a lawyer, it is recommended to ask the professional some questions such as:

· For how long has he/she been practicing law?
· How much experience does he/she have working with clients in similar situations?
· What is his/her track record of success in similar cases?
· Does he/she have any special skills or certifications?
· What are his/her fees and how are they structured?
· What additional costs may be involved in addition to lawyer fees (postage, copy fees, trips, filing fees etc.)?
· Does he/she carry malpractice insurance?
· Are there others ways for solving the legal problem in discussion?
· How does he/she follow up actions with clients?
· What is the likely outcome in the case?
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