In this post, I discuss the attorney-client relationship within the freelance law context.
It is crucial that both of the lawyers involved in the freelance law relationship understand the nature of the attorney-client relationship. Although the freelance lawyer is retained by the hiring lawyer, the freelance lawyer does not represent the hiring lawyer or provide legal services on their behalf. Rather, the freelance lawyer provides legal services to the hiring lawyer's client and forms an attorney-client relationship with that client. An attorney-client relationship is formed regardless of the limited scope of the representation or the temporary nature of the representation. Therefore, the freelance lawyer has an attorney-client relationship even if he or she never meets with or speaks to the client, or the hiring lawyer never discloses the use of the freelance lawyer to the client.
Colorado Ethics Opinion 105 is unambiguous on this point: "an attorney-client relationship exists between the [freelance] lawyer and the client(s) represented by the engaging law firm for whom the [freelance] lawyer provides services...notwithstanding the temporary nature of the relationship or the interposition of the law firm." The Opinion further states "a [freelance] lawyer represents the client of the employing lawyer or law firm." Colorado Bar Association, Formal Ethics Opinion 105, Opinion on Temporary Lawyers, May 22, 1999.
Because the freelance lawyer forms an attorney-client relationship, all of the obligations flowing from that relationship are binding on the freelance lawyer. "The [freelance] lawyer must consider and observe all ethical duties arising from the attorney-client relationship" and "the application of various provisions of the Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct is determined based on such attorney-client relationship." Colorado Bar Association, Formal Opinion 105.
Freelance lawyers must therefore i) act competently; ii) evaluate whether representation of a client represents a conflict of interest with a current or former client; iii) assess confidentiality issues and maintain confidentiality and attorney-client privilege; and iv) evaluate financial arrangements with both the hiring lawyer and the client. I will discuss each of these issues in turn in later posts.
In the next post, I will discuss how freelance law is analogous to limited scope representation or unbundled legal services.
Of course, rules and ethical obligations may vary by jurisdiction, and this post does not constitute legal advice.