For many people, finding legal help is not easy. The Commons Law Center’s mission is to expand affordable access to basic legal services, train new lawyers, and provide free legal education to the community. Like all lawyers, as lawyers and staff at The Commons Law Center we are bound by ethical duties. These duties include protecting our client’s confidentiality, advocating for our clients zealously, communicating with and keeping our clients up to date on what is going on in their legal matter, and providing adequate and competent legal representation to our client.

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about our ethical duties, and we share them in the hopes that it empowers you when looking for legal help.

When I call The Commons Law Center for legal assistance, whose interests are they looking out for?

Yours. 

Our ethical duties extend to our staff, including our duty to keep your communications with us confidential. We always try to avoid using complicated “legal-speak” and communicate clearly with non-lawyers. Whether we meet with you for a 15-minute phone call or provide you with full-scope representation, you are our priority. 

So, I’ve retained the Commons Law Center, what’s that mean? 

Retaining counsel means a client and lawyer have agreed to work together and a lawyer-client relationship has been established.

In any lawyer-client relationship, the client sets the goals and the lawyer takes steps to reach them. ORPC 1.2. It’s important to know that you can always talk with your lawyer about how you want to reach those goals and any choices you’d like to avoid. ORPC 1.2, 1.6. We also have a duty to keep you informed and empowered to make informed and strategic legal choices. ORCP 1.4

When I’m represented by The Commons Law Center, can they represent anyone else involved in my case?

As lawyers, we push for our client’s wishes over anything. However, we are often asked to help other people. To protect our clients, we use a “conflicts check” to see if anyone requesting our assistance is in a legal conflict against one of our clients or a person that we have spoken with as a potential client. If they are, we cannot give legal advice to or represent that person. 

Lawyers cannot represent persons with legal interests against current or former clients. ORCP 1.7, 1.9. Our duty to protect each client’s interests carries on after our work for them ends. ORCP 1.9. This rule prevents former clients from having to argue against a lawyer who holds special knowledge about them from their previous lawyer-client relationship. Lawyers cannot use your confidential communications with them  against you. 

We cannot give legal advice if we find a conflict of interests exists at any point of our work together. ORCP 1.7. 

So, if I call and a conflict is found or my legal problem isn’t covered by The Commons Law Center, am I out of luck?

If you call with a matter we cannot personally assist with, we always provide several referrals to help you find legal assistance that’s right for you. If you need legal help, we won’t leave you empty-handed. 

What information can I share with The Commons Law Center? 

Lawyers cannot reveal your communications with them unless you give informed consent for us to do so or the disclosure is required to carry out your legal work. ORPC 1.6. 

  • Informed consent refers to situations when you make a decision after consulting with your lawyer about risks and other options. ORPC 1.6.
  • Disclosure to carry out legal work refers to a situation when information must be shared to move your matter forward. ORPC 1.6.
    • For example, sharing some information will probably be necessary at a hearing. However, you can always tell your attorney what you are not willing to share. ORCP 1.2, 1.6.
    • In any lawyer-client relationship, you hold the power to set the goals of the representation, and those goals determine what actions are necessary to move your matter forward. ORCP 1.2. 

There are rare situations when we might have to break confidentiality, see below. 

So anything I tell my lawyer is a secret and protected?

Usually, yes. A lawyer must or is allowed to share confidential information against the client’s wishes only in the following situations: 

  • To prevent the client from committing a crime,
  • To prevent reasonably certain death or serious bodily harm,
  • To get legal ethical advice, or
  • To act as required by law (such as our duties as mandatory reporters).

In these instances, lawyers can only share information that is absolutely necessary for the purpose of breaking confidentiality. ORCP 1.6(b).

What if I want to talk about my legal issues to others? 

The information you share with us is protected by our duty of confidentiality. For your information to be protected by attorney-client privilege, there are some additional requirements that must be met. Check out our blog post on the duty of confidentiality and attorney-client privilege for more information. 

Need Help?

If you’re having legal problems and aren’t sure what the next steps are, contact our attorneys at The Commons Law Center by calling (503) 850-0811 or using this link to set up a free 15-minute consultation.

About the author 

Staff Attorneys

Articles co-written by our team of attorneys.

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