You have a right to discuss the proposed rates and retainer fee with your lawyer and you have the right to bargain about the fees before you sign the agreement, as in any other contract.
You have the right to know how many attorneys and other legal staff will be working on your case at any given time, and what you will be charged for their services.
You have the right to know in advance how you will be asked to pay legal fees and expenses at the end of the case. If you pay for a retainer, you may ask reasonable questions about how the money will be spent or has been spent and how much of it remains unspent.
You are under no legal obligation to sign a Confession of Judgment or a Promissory Note or agree to a lien or mortgage on your home to cover legal fees. You are under no legal obligation to waive your rights to dispute a bill for legal services.
You have a right to a reasonable estimate of future necessary costs. If your lawyer agrees to lend or advance you money for preparing your case, you have the right to know periodically how much money your lawyer has spent on your behalf. You also have the right to decide after consulting with your lawyer, how much money is to be spent to prepare a case. If you pay the expenses, you have the right to decide how much to spend.
You have the right to ask your lawyer at reasonable intervals how the case is progressing and to have these questions answered to the best of your lawyer’s ability.
You have the right to make the final decision regarding the settlement of your case.
You have a right to original documents that are not part of your attorney’s work product. For instance, if you gave your present attorney documents from another attorney, you have a right to those documents. You have a right to ask your attorney to forward documents to you in a timely manner as he/she receives them from the opposing party’s attorney.
You have a right to be present at court conferences relating to your case that are held with judges and attorneys, and you also have the right to bring a family member or a friend to all court proceedings, unless a judge orders otherwise.
You have the right to know the cost of bringing a motion. The cost may vary depending on the lawyer’s rates and circumstances of the case, but you have the right to a general estimate.
If at any time, you, the client, believe that your lawyer has charged an excessive or illegal fee, you have the right to report the matter to a disciplinary or grievance committee that oversees lawyer misconduct.
* This statement of rights originally appeared as The Bill of Rights for Divorce Clients in the 1992 report: Women in Divorce: Lawyers, Ethics, Fees and Fairness, which was written by Karen Winner for the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs. In 1993, a version of this statement became new court rules for divorce lawyers issued by New York Chief Judge Judith Kaye. Subsequently, under New York’s Court Rules, 22 NYCRR 1210.1, all lawyers in New York are now required to provide the following Statement of Client’s Rights in a lawyer’s offices. Following is the text of that rule:
Section 1210.1 Posting.
Every attorney with an office located in the State of New York shall insure that there is posted in that office, in a manner visible to clients of the attorney, a statement of client’s rights in the form set forth below. Attorneys in offices that provide legal services without fee may delete from the statement those provisions dealing with fees. The statement shall contain the following:
STATEMENT OF CLIENT’S RIGHTS
Section 1210.1 of the Joint Rules of the Appellate Division
1. You are entitled to be treated with courtesy and consideration at all times by your lawyer and the other lawyers and personnel in your lawyer’s office.
2. You are entitled to an attorney capable of handling your legal matter competently and diligently, in accordance with the highest standards of the profession. If you are not satisfied with how your matter is being handled, you have the right to withdraw from the attorney-client relationship at any time (court approval may be required in some matters and your attorney may have a claim against you for the value of services rendered to you up to the point of discharge).
3. You are entitled to your lawyer’s independent professional judgment and undivided loyalty uncompromised by conflicts of interest.
4. You are entitled to be charged a reasonable fee and to have your lawyer explain at the outset how the fee will be computed and the manner and frequency of billing. You are entitled to request and receive a written itemized bill from your attorney at reasonable intervals. You may refuse to enter into any fee arrangement that you find unsatisfactory.
5. You are entitled to have your questions and concerns addressed in a prompt manner and to have your telephone calls returned promptly.
6. You are entitled to be kept informed as to the status of your matter and to request and receive copies of papers. You are entitled to sufficient information to allow you to participate meaningfully in the development of your matter.
7. You are entitled to have your legitimate objectives respected by your attorney, including whether or not to settle your matter (court approval of a settlement is required in some matters).
8. You have the right to privacy in your dealings with your lawyer and to have your secrets and confidences preserved to the extent permitted by law.
9. You are entitled to have your attorney conduct himself or herself ethically in accordance with the Code of Professional Responsibility.
10. You may not be refused representation on the basis of race, creed, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age, national origin or disability.