When is an attorney not functioning as your attorney?

Most would think that you would only go to a lawyer when you need legal representation, right? There are, however, countless people throughout Florida who rely on attorneys for services that, while having potential legal ramifications, may not be actual representation. These law-related services can be quite valuable in helping you and others make sound decisions, yet the fact that they are often offered by attorneys can blur the line between the attorney-client relationship, causing you to question when an attorney is acting as your attorney, and when he or she is not. 

Exactly what are these law-related services? The Model Rules of Professional Conduct issued by the American Bar Association define them as "services that might reasonably be performed in conjunction with and in substance are related to the provision of legal services, and that are not prohibited as unauthorized practice of law when provided by a nonlawyer." More specific examples might include: 

  • Financial planning 
  • Real estate counseling 
  • Social work
  • Psychological counseling 
  • Trust services 
  • Patent consulting 

The ABA does not discourage its members from offering such services; on the contrary, it recognizes that an attorney's legal expertise can be a valuable resource when provided in conjunction with them. 

When such services are offered by an attorney, however, he or she must make a clear distinction that they do not qualify as actual legal representation, and thus are not subject to the standard legal Rules of Professional Conduct. Thus, information you share with an attorney who is helping to prepare your taxes or reviewing a real estate contract may not be protected under attorney-client privilege. If that attorney does not make this distinction, however, then he or she could be held to the same rules as those that govern his or her legal services. 

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