Can A Lawyer Turn Against Their Client?

When it comes to the ethical and legal responsibilities of attorneys, the question of whether a lawyer can turn against their client is a complex and multifaceted issue. The attorney-client relationship is built on trust, confidentiality, and zealous advocacy, but there are situations where a lawyer may find themselves in a position where their obligations to the client conflict with other professional and ethical duties. In this overview, we will delve into various scenarios where a lawyer might “turn against” their client, the ethical considerations surrounding such actions, and the potential consequences that could arise.

Can A Lawyer Turn Against Their Client?

Yes, in certain circumstances, a lawyer may choose to withdraw representation or turn against their client. This could happen if the lawyer discovers that the client is engaged in illegal activities, the client provides false information, or if there is a conflict of interest that prevents the lawyer from representing the client effectively. However, this decision is subject to ethical and legal considerations and may vary based on jurisdiction and specific case circumstances.

Conflicts of Interest: Can A Lawyer Turn Against Their Client?

One of the most critical considerations in the lawyer-client relationship is the concept of conflicts of interest. Lawyers have a duty to avoid conflicts that could compromise their ability to provide effective representation. Conflict can arise in various forms: personal conflicts, financial conflicts, and conflicts due to prior representations. A lawyer might find themselves needing to withdraw from representation if a conflict arises that prevents them from providing unbiased and loyal representation to their client. While this may not necessarily be turning against the client, it does involve a situation where the lawyer’s interests or obligations conflict with those of the client.

Withdrawal from Representation: Can A Lawyer Turn Against Their Client?

In situations where a lawyer realizes that they can no longer effectively represent their client due to a conflict of interest, a breakdown in communication, or other circumstances, they may consider withdrawing from the case. However, this must be done in accordance with the legal and ethical obligations governing such actions. Lawyers are generally required to seek court approval before withdrawing from a case, especially if it could potentially harm the client’s interests. While withdrawing from representation isn’t necessarily “turning against” the client, it can have significant implications for the client’s case and well-being.

Whistleblowing and Reporting Misconduct: Can A Lawyer Turn Against Their Client?

There are instances where a lawyer might discover that their client is engaged in illegal or unethical behavior. In such cases, the lawyer faces a difficult dilemma: maintaining client confidentiality versus reporting the misconduct. Lawyers have a duty to uphold the law and promote justice, and this duty may conflict with their obligation to maintain client confidentiality. While it may seem like the lawyer is “turning against” the client by reporting their actions, it’s important to recognize that the lawyer is also bound by their responsibility to the legal system and society at large.

Criminal Defense Attorneys and Ethical Dilemmas: Can A Lawyer Turn Against Their Client?

Criminal defense attorneys often grapple with unique ethical dilemmas. They are tasked with providing a robust defense for their clients, even if they believe the client may be guilty. This can put the lawyer in the challenging position of advocating for a client’s interests while being aware of potential harm their client might cause to others. In such cases, the lawyer must balance their duty to provide zealous representation with their ethical obligations to society and the legal system.


Circumstances When a Lawyer Turns Against Their Client

Turning against a client is a drastic action for any lawyer and is usually a last resort. Lawyers are bound by ethical codes and professional obligations to zealously advocate for their clients’ interests. However, there are certain circumstances where a lawyer may be compelled to take actions that could be perceived as turning against their client. Here, we’ll explore three such scenarios in detail.

1. Discovery of Client’s Criminal Activity:

In legal practice, the duty of confidentiality is paramount. Lawyers are required to maintain the confidentiality of information shared by their clients, even if that information implicates the client in criminal activity. However, there are exceptions to this rule, particularly if the lawyer becomes aware that their client is engaging in ongoing criminal conduct.

Imagine a scenario where a lawyer is representing a high-profile individual accused of white-collar crime. During the course of preparing the defense, the lawyer uncovers evidence that their client is actively tampering with witnesses or fabricating documents to obstruct justice. Despite the attorney-client privilege, the lawyer cannot ignore this discovery.

Lawyers have a paramount duty to the court and the administration of justice. If they become aware of ongoing criminal conduct by their client that obstructs justice, they may be obligated to disclose this information to the relevant authorities.
In such cases, the lawyer may seek permission from the court to withdraw from representing the client. This action not only protects the lawyer’s ethical obligations but also ensures that they are not complicit in their client’s criminal behavior.

2. Client Misrepresentation or Fraud:

Another circumstance where a lawyer may need to distance themselves from their client is when they discover that the client has misrepresented facts or engaged in fraudulent behavior. While lawyers are advocates for their clients, they are not permitted to assist or enable fraudulent conduct.
Consider a situation where a lawyer is representing a corporate client in a civil lawsuit involving contractual disputes. During the discovery phase, the lawyer uncovers evidence suggesting that their client deliberately misrepresented financial information to the opposing party and the court. This misrepresentation could potentially alter the outcome of the case if not addressed.

Lawyers are bound by ethical rules that require them to be truthful and transparent in their dealings with the court and opposing parties. If they discover that their client has engaged in misrepresentation or fraud, they may be obligated to rectify the situation or withdraw from representation.
Continuing to represent a client who has engaged in fraudulent behavior may create conflicts of interest for the lawyer. They may find themselves torn between their duty to advocate for the client and their duty to uphold the integrity of the legal system.

3. Breakdown of Trust or Communication:

Sometimes, the relationship between a lawyer and client can deteriorate to the point where effective representation becomes impossible. This breakdown can occur due to various reasons, such as irreconcilable differences in strategy, lack of communication, or loss of trust.

Suppose a lawyer is representing a client in a contentious divorce case. Despite the lawyer’s best efforts to communicate and strategize effectively, the client consistently disregards legal advice, makes decisions without consulting the lawyer, and undermines the lawyer’s authority in court. This breakdown in communication and trust impedes the lawyer’s ability to represent the client effectively.

Lawyers are expected to maintain professional integrity and competence in their representation of clients. If the breakdown in the lawyer-client relationship jeopardizes the lawyer’s ability to fulfill these obligations, they may need to consider withdrawing from representation.
In situations where communication has broken down irreparably or trust has been compromised, the lawyer may seek permission from the court to withdraw from representing the client. This action is taken to protect both the lawyer’s professional integrity and the client’s right to effective representation.

4. Conflict of Interest:

Conflict of interest arises when a lawyer’s personal or professional interests conflict with their duty to provide competent and diligent representation to their client. While conflicts of interest can sometimes be managed or waived with informed consent, there are situations where the conflict is so severe that it precludes effective representation.

Consider a scenario where a lawyer represents two clients in a business transaction. As the deal progresses, it becomes apparent that the interests of the two clients diverge significantly, and there is a risk of one client being disadvantaged by the representation. Despite efforts to mitigate the conflict, it becomes clear that the lawyer cannot adequately represent the interests of both clients without compromising their duty of loyalty and impartiality.

Lawyers owe a duty of undivided loyalty to their clients, which means they must prioritize their clients’ interests above their own or those of any other party. If a conflict of interest arises that compromises this duty, the lawyer may need to withdraw from representing one or both clients.
In cases where a conflict of interest is identified, lawyers may seek informed consent from the affected clients to continue representation. However, if obtaining informed consent is not feasible or if the conflict is so severe that it cannot be effectively managed, withdrawal from representation may be necessary.

5. Non-Payment of Legal Fees:

Lawyers provide their services in exchange for payment of fees, and non-payment can strain the lawyer-client relationship. While lawyers have an obligation to provide competent representation regardless of a client’s ability to pay, persistent non-payment may lead to conflicts and ultimately impact the lawyer’s ability to continue representation.

Imagine a situation where a lawyer represents a client in a complex civil litigation matter. Despite ongoing legal services rendered by the lawyer, the client repeatedly fails to pay the agreed-upon legal fees. The lawyer attempts to address the issue through communication and negotiation but is unable to secure payment or a satisfactory resolution. As a result, the lawyer may be forced to reassess their representation of the client.

Lawyers rely on payment of fees to sustain their practice and meet their financial obligations. Persistent non-payment of legal fees can strain the lawyer’s resources and affect their ability to provide effective representation to the client.
If efforts to resolve payment issues amicably are unsuccessful and the non-payment significantly undermines the lawyer’s ability to continue representation, the lawyer may consider withdrawing from the case. However, withdrawal must be conducted in accordance with ethical obligations and legal requirements to avoid prejudicing the client’s interests.

6. Client’s Unwillingness to Follow Legal Advice:

Effective legal representation requires a collaborative relationship between the lawyer and the client, with the client relying on the lawyer’s expertise and guidance. However, if a client consistently refuses to follow legal advice or insists on pursuing a course of action contrary to the lawyer’s professional judgment, it can strain the lawyer-client relationship and jeopardize the case.

Consider a scenario where a lawyer represents a client in a personal injury lawsuit arising from a car accident. Despite the lawyer’s recommendation to pursue a settlement offer that is reasonable and in the client’s best interest, the client adamantly refuses to settle and insists on taking the case to trial. The lawyer, concerned about the risks and potential consequences of proceeding to trial, finds themselves at odds with the client’s decision.

Lawyers are trained professionals with expertise in evaluating legal matters and providing sound advice to their clients. When clients disregard legal advice and insist on pursuing a course of action that the lawyer believes to be detrimental to their interests, it can create tension and conflict in the lawyer-client relationship.
If the client’s unwillingness to follow legal advice compromises the lawyer’s ability to effectively represent them or undermines the lawyer’s professional integrity, the lawyer may consider withdrawing from the representation. However, withdrawal should be a last resort after exhausting efforts to persuade the client or explore alternative solutions.

While lawyers are duty-bound to advocate for their clients’ interests zealously, there are circumstances where conflicts may arise, necessitating a reevaluation of the lawyer-client relationship. Whether it’s conflicts of interest, non-payment of legal fees, or client’s unwillingness to follow legal advice, lawyers must navigate these challenges with professionalism, integrity, and a commitment to upholding their ethical obligations while safeguarding the interests of their clients.


Can Your Lawyer Report You To The Police, If They Know You Are Guilty?

Can Lawyers Serve On Juries?

Can A Crime Victim Sue The Prosecutor That Prosecuted The Crime?


In conclusion, the question of whether a lawyer can turn against their client is a nuanced and intricate matter. While lawyers have a primary duty to provide loyal and zealous representation to their clients, there are circumstances where conflicts of interest, ethical dilemmas, or concerns for the greater good may lead to actions that appear to be “turning against” the client. Ultimately, the lawyer’s ethical obligations to the legal system, the rule of law, and the well-being of society as a whole can sometimes come into conflict with their duty to their individual client. Navigating these complexities requires a delicate balance between the attorney’s responsibilities and their commitment to justice.


Last updated on: April 20, 2024

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 thoughts on “Can A Lawyer Turn Against Their Client?”