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Legal relationship between Lawyer and Client

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Legal relationship between Lawyer and Client

From a civil law perspective, the legal relationship between lawyer and client is a civil relationship between a service provider and a service user. However, because lawyer is a specific profession that provides legal services to clients, the legal relationship between lawyers and clients is also governed by other provisions of the lawyer law. Specifically, a lawyer’s conduct and providing of legal services to clients shall ensure compliance with professional ethical standards as detailed in Code of Ethics and Conduct for Vietnamese Lawyers. This is essential for fostering and preserving client trust in lawyers in general, while also elevating the professionalism and ethical responsibility of practising lawyers themselves. The following are fundamental principles in the legal relationship between lawyer and client:

Basic principles

Lawyers must always comply with basic principles throughout the process of contacting and working with clients from the stage of accepting the case until the end of the case and even when the parties have a dispute related to related to the provision of legal services, including:  Best protecting the legitimate rights and interests of clients; showing respect to clients; maintaining confidentiality of information; clearly notifying the method of calculating and the remunerations, fees for each case and such remunerations, fees shall be explicitly stated in the legal services agreement to prevent any potential misunderstanding by the client regarding the agreed-upon remunerations and fees.[1]

Besides, the legal profession is characterised by its qualitative nature rather than quantitative measures and clients who approach a lawyer harbour high expectations regarding the desired outcome of their case. However, it should be clarified that the lawyer is not the person with the authority to make decisions on the outcome of the case, so one of the top basic principles that the lawyer is required to comply with is to refrain from making commitments or promises beyond the lawyer’s ability and performance conditions to ensure the legitimate rights of the client.[2]

Receiving the case: Building legal relationship between lawyer and client in accordance with the law

When receiving a client’s case, the lawyer needs to quickly reply to the client whether the lawyer accepts the case; lawyers only accept cases in accordance with their conditions and professional abilities and are required to carry out cases within the scope of the client’s legal requirements.[3] Accordingly, the parties will carefully negotiate and sign the legal services agreement and the legal services agreement shall fully includes the required information under Article 26 of the Law on Lawyers so that the establishment of legal relationship between lawyer and client is in line with the law.

Not receiving money or benefits beyond the agreed remuneration and fees

According to Article 9 of the Law on Lawyers, the act of receiving additional expenses or benefits beyond the agreed-upon remunerations and fees stated in the agreement is strictly prohibited. Instead, lawyers and clients are required to clearly stipulate all remunerations and fees to carry out the case in the legal services agreement. For cases where the service fees are based on the outcome of the case, the parties can agree to calculate the remuneration based on a percentage of the value actually collected by the client, and this arrangement must be clearly outlined in the legal service agreement as well.

Cases where lawyer must refuse to accept a client’s case or refuse to continue handling a client’s case

In the legal field, the decision to refuse to accept a client’s case or refuse to continue handling a client’s case is not only a legal obligation but also a measure to protect the client’s rights as well as maintain professional ethics of a lawyer. According to Rules 11, 13 and 15 of the Code of Ethics and Conduct for Vietnamese Lawyers, lawyers are responsible for refusing to accept a client’s case or refusing to continue handling a client’s case in certain cases such as: (i) the client has a conflict of interest as prescribed by law; or (ii) the client’s request is unethical or violates legal prohibitions; or (iii) the client exerts threats, either physical or mental, that compel the lawyer to act contrary to the law and professional ethics etc.

In addition, one of the common situations that lawyers need to pay attention to is the case where the client requests a lawyer through another person, but the lawyer knows clearly that this person shows signs of taking advantage of the client’s representative status to seek unjustified benefits that affect the legitimate rights of clients. In such instances, the lawyer is required to refuse to accept the case or refuse to continue handling a case. Accordingly, this refusal will prevent abuse of the representative’s rights and protect the legal rights of the client. Another situation that requires a lawyer’s determination is when a client requests a legal service with the lawyer’s knowledge that the intention is to exploit those services for unlawful purposes or when the client is not acting voluntarily but is influenced by another person or cases when clients provide fake information such as fake evidence or have unethical requests, or violate legal prohibitions. In such situations, refusing to accept the case or refusing to continue handling the case is an important and mandatory step to protect the accuracy, fairness and objectivity of the legal system.

In general, refusing to accept a client’s case or continue handling a client’s case is not only a measure to protect the client’s rights but also a lawyer’s commitment to ethics, honour, and professional reputation, while contributing to building a just and transparent legal system.

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Lawyer’s conduct when handling client’s case

Handling a client’s case is an important stage in the legal profession. Beyond requiring professional qualifications at work, a lawyer must demonstrate high levels of professionalism and responsibility throughout the entire case resolution process. To ensure a good legal relationship between lawyer and client as well as maintain the effectiveness and responsibility of lawyers throughout the process of handling the client’s case, the Vietnam Bar Federation has clearly stated the provisions that lawyers need to comply with during this period in Rule 12 of the Code of Ethics and Conduct for Vietnamese Lawyers.

Accordingly, lawyers are obligated to comply with four basic principles when handling their client’s case. First, the lawyer must proactively resolve the case and notify the client of the resolution process. Second, lawyers must preserve documents assigned to them by their clients according to regulations and are responsible for preserving the records assigned to them by their clients. Third, lawyers need to behave appropriately to avoid disputes with clients and must maintain a respectful attitude, engage in proactive negotiation, and seek reconciliation when faced with disagreements or client complaints. Finally, lawyers need to clearly notify when any disagreements among themselves that may be detrimental to the client, enabling the client to make an informed choice.[4]

In addition, the lawyer also has the right to refuse to continue handling a client’s case if there is an unsatisfactory request from the client, as stipulated in Rule 13 of the Code of Ethics and Conduct for Vietnamese Lawyers analysed in section 4 of this article. In this case, the lawyer shall respectfully terminate the agreement and notify the client within a reasonable period of time so that the client can find another lawyer and quickly resolve issues related to the termination of the signed legal service agreement.[5] It can be seen that handling a client’s case is not only a professional duty but also an opportunity to demonstrate the ethical qualities of a lawyer, while contributing to building a transparent and fair legal system

Lawyer’s conduct with clients at the end of the case

When the case ends, the lawyer’s conduct with the client plays an important role in demonstrating the professionalism of the service provider as well as helping to increase the client experience to maintain a positive legal relationship between lawyer and client. In principle, at the end of the case, the lawyer must clearly notify the client of the results of the case, this notice should include details of the legal outcome, steps taken, and matters relating to liquidation of the agreement as previously agreed. In addition, the lawyer must also continue to keep the client’s information confidential after the case ends, including information related to the case as well all other information that the lawyer obtains from the process of working with the client, unless there is consent from the client or according to the provisions of law.[6] These rules all contribute to building trust from clients and contribute to creating transparency in the legal relationship between lawyer and client at this stage as a foundation for future cooperation opportunities.

Code of ethics and conduct: Important foundation

Lawyers’ professional activities aim to contribute to protecting justice, independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of the Fatherland; contributing to socio-economic development, advancing the cause of prosperity, ensuring a robust and democratic society that is fair and civilised. Compliance with the Code of Ethics and Conduct for Vietnamese Lawyers is the main foundation for lawyers to maintain professional standards and promote the tradition of lawyers. In addition, the Code of Ethics and Conduct for Vietnamese Lawyers is also an important tool to handle violations and resolve complaints, thereby cultivating a generation of responsible and professional lawyers.

Management of conflicts and handling emergency situations

In principle, lawyers are not allowed to accept or carry out client’s cases in cases of conflicts of interest, unless permitted by law. A conflict of interest is a case where the lawyer’s rights and obligations are affected by current clients, former clients, or third parties, leading to a situation where the lawyer is either restricted or potentially restricted in fulfilling the obligation to best protect the legitimate rights and interests of the client, as well as the duty to maintain client information confidentiality. Thus, in the process of performing assigned work, lawyers need to maintain initiative and the ability to manage conflicts of interest. In case a conflict of interest is discovered that occurs against the lawyer’s wishes, the lawyer should proactively notify the client immediately for resolution.

It can be seen that the lawyer law plays an important role in regulating the legal relationship between lawyer and clientin all stages of contact and working with clients, thereby maintaining the professional and ethical standards which are the key to ensuring the success of both parties, contributing to the core values of the legal profession. In addition, the Code of Ethics and Conduct for Vietnamese Lawyers, along with the Regulations on resolving complaints, denunciations, and disciplinary actions, were issued under Decision No.203/QD-HDLSTQ dated 19 December 2019 of the National Bar Council, is not only a tool for managing and handling violations, but also protecting the reputation and honour of the legal profession. This not only underpins a transparent and fair claims handling process, but also creates a platform on which both lawyers and clients can trust and build long-term relationships.

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The above is an overview of our legal perspective on legal relationship between lawyer and client matter that Phuoc & Partners share with readers. If you have difficulties in finding a Law Firm to advise and support in the relevant legal field, please contact us. Phuoc & Partnersis a professional consulting firm established in Vietnam and currently has nearly 100 members working in three offices in Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi and Danang. Phuoc & Partners is also rated as one of the leading consulting firms specialising in business law in Vietnam that has leading practice areas in the legal market such as Labour and Employment, Taxation, Merger and acquisition, Litigation. We are confident in providing Clients with optimal and effective service.

[1] Rules 5,6,7,8 of Code of Ethics and Conduct for Vietnamese Lawyers

[2] Rules 9 of Code of Ethics and Conduct for Vietnamese Lawyers

[3] Rules 10 of Code of Ethics and Conduct for Vietnamese Lawyers

[4] Rules 12 of Code of Ethics and Conduct for Vietnamese Lawyers

[5] Rules 14 of Code of Ethics and Conduct for Vietnamese Lawyers

[6] Rules 7 & Rule 16 of Code of Ethics and Conduct for Vietnamese Lawyers