Standards for the Provision of Civil Legal Aid

Standard 7.8 on Legal Counseling

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Standard

The practitioner should effectively counsel the client throughout the representation to assure the client understands available options and the potential benefits and risks of each.

Commentary

General considerations

One of a practitioner's key functions is to counsel clients to help them understand their legal problem fully and choose how to respond. The client, not the practitioner, must ultimately determine the objective to be sought within the limits imposed by law and the practitioner's ethical obligations. An important role of the practitioner is to utilize legal knowledge and problem solving skills to elicit the client's understanding of the problem and to identify possible outcomes and the options available to accomplish them. Sometimes, a client will have limited expectations and the practitioner can present available options that go well beyond what the client thought possible. In other situations, the law may severely limit what can be done, even though the client may feel entitled to much more.

Responsibilities associated with effective legal counseling

Legal counseling is an essential ingredient of effective legal representation. It calls for the practitioner to offer candid guidance based on the law and the specific circumstances of the client. The counseling should take into account damaging as well as favorable facts and should honestly convey potential negative outcomes and alternatives as well as positive ones. Legal counsel should be expressed in terms that help the client understand the full implications of the issue, not just its narrow legal aspects. It can properly be based on moral, economic, social and political consideration as well as the law.

In full representation, the practitioner should counsel the client at key stages of the case, particularly when the client is deciding on the objective for the representation and is making important strategic choices. The practitioner should present potential results and reasonable strategies for achieving them. The practitioner should explain the relative advantages and disadvantages of different options and the potential benefits and risks for the individual and, where pertinent, for others who may be affected by the strategy chosen.