Commonly Asked Legal Questions

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  • A client has hired you to represent him on a criminal DWI charge, his first offense. He is willing to pay a $5,000 non-refundable retainer to cover your work, and a bonus of $5,000 if you get him probation and $10,000 if you get him off completely. You think you can probably get him probation, and there is somewhat less of a chance that you can get him acquitted. Can you sign an agreement to that effect?

    No. It is unethical to charge a fee contingent upon results of a criminal case. See DR 1.04(e).

  • Can a lawyer represent both parties in reaching an agreement or a contract?

    The ethics rules governing conduct by attorneys in the state of Texas prohibits an attorney from having any conflict of interest in any matter, which would preclude that lawyer from representing both sides of a transaction or lawsuit.

  • Does a lawyer ever have any duty of confidentiality prior to undertaking representation of a client?

    Yes, generally speaking a lawyer has a duty of confidentiality to a potential client even before agreeing to undertake the representation of the client.  See TDRPC, Preamble, Sec. 12; Rule 1.05(a); and TRE, Rule 503(a)(1).

  • Can a lawyer who was an employee of a state regulatory agency later represent a client before that same agency in a matter that originated while the lawyer was working at the agency?

    Yes. Under some circumstances. Texas Ethics Committee Opinion 574 (2006) addresses this issue and holds that the lawyer may do so if the lawyer had no personal and substantial participation in the matter as an employee of the agency.

  • Does a lawyer ever have any duty of confidentiality prior to undertaking representation of a client?

    Yes, she may. See TDRPC, Preamble, Sec. 12; Rule 1.05(a); and TRE, Rule 503(a)(1).

  • How can I check to see if my attorney has any grievances or ethical complaints against him or her?

    To check on the status of a lawyer in the state of Texas, go to the State Bar of Texas web site, and type in the lawyer’s name.  It will list the public disciplinary activity for that lawyer.  You can also contact the Office of the Chief Disciplinary Counsel for the State Bar of Texas at 800-932-1900.

  • How does one enforce a contingent fee agreement that is not in writing?

    One doesn’t because one can’t. See DR 1.04(d).

  • I am having difficulty with my attorney, who can I talk to?

    The Client Attorney Assistance Program (CAAP) is a statewide dispute resolution program and service of the State Bar of Texas. It is available to the public and State Bar members (attorneys). The program was launched on Sept. 27, 1999. CAAP may be reached from anywhere in the United States by calling (800) 932-1900.  Please click here for more information.

  • I can’t afford an attorney. What are my options?

    You should go to TexasLawHelp, which helps low and moderate income Texans find free legal aid programs in their communities.  To see a listing of legal service providers by county, see the 2010 Referral Directory for Low-Income Texans, which can also be found at (under “Helpful Websites for the Public”).

    If you do not qualify for legal aid, contact the Lawyer Referral Information Service at 1-800-252-9690. Through the Lawyer Referral Information Service, a prospective client can have a thirty-minute consultation with an attorney for $20.00. At the end of the consultation, the attorney will determine if they will be able to represent the prospective client and discuss the price structure.

  • If you do charge such a fee, what remedies would the client have besides filing a grievance against you and/or suing for damages?

    He could also sue for forfeiture of the fee for breach of fiduciary duty. See Burrow v. Arce, 997 S.W.2d 229 (Tex. 1999).

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