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Legal Consumers Bill of Rights

For the average person, the legal process can be confusing, intimidating and expensive.  The often-complex path to justice is frequently fraught with unanticipated costs, and complicated by a minority of attorneys who are more concerned with pocketing a quick dollar than with giving clients the attention and services they deserve.

Many consumers simply lack the background and sophistication to make informed decisions about their own legal actions.  Consequently, those seeking legal assistance are often harmed by the very legal system itself, at the hands of their own lawyers.

PROBLEM:  Under the current system, consumers are ill-equipped to defend themselves against attorney abuse of power and knowledge.  Advertisements for legal services often mislead and confuse plaintiffs.  These advertisements emphasize the word "free" without explaining cost or fee structures, much less the likelihood of success, the amount and time and effort an attorney will have to invest in the case, or any other important details.  In this regard, individual consumers are very much unlike a sophisticated corporation that has both knowledge and fee leverage over its outside counsel.

Some lawyers take advantage of this inexperience and lack of sophistication by pressuring vulnerable, ill-prepared legal consumers to sign extravagant fees. There are stories of injured plaintiffs being urged to sign retainer agreements in hospital beds, or receiving attorney business cards at memorial services— hardly the time to make a rational contractual decision.

ATRA’S POSITION:  ATRA supports a "Legal Consumers Bill of Rights" that empowers ordinary consumers to become "smart shoppers" in the market for legal services.  An effective Legal Consumers Bill of Rights alerts consumers to the potential for fee-abuse and provide them with the basic information they need to make an informed decision when retaining an attorney.

ATRA supports legislation that:

  1. Establishes basic rights for consumers.
  2. Protects consumers by requiring lawyers to give a full explanation of the fee arrangement and alternative billing options, as well as an “up-front” estimate of the probability of success, likely recovery, hours of work to be expended, and expenses that may be incurred. In this regard, the proposal requires lawyers—agents of the court—to give the same type of information that is routinely required of auto mechanics, plumbers, electricians, funeral directors, door-to-door salesmen, and all other service providers before they are given authority to "go to work."
  3. Gives the consumer the right to an objective review of the legal services by an impartial, diverse, disciplinary board, if the consumer is concerned that the lawyer's conduct seems unreasonable. This functional equivalent of a "Legal Better Business Bureau," provides an important safeguard that can help keep fees fair and ensure that, in low risk cases, more of the recovery goes to the person who was actually harmed.
  4. Requires lawyers to keep accurate time records and, at the end of the case, to provide the client with detailed information regarding the time spent on the case and any fees and expenses to be charged.  Again, as with auto repairs and other services, consumers will get a detailed written statement of the work that was done and the cost of the work.

OPPOSITION:  Disclosure laws, like the Legal Consumers Bill of Rights, help consumers make informed decisions.  Nonetheless, some members of the personal injury bar have come out against the Legal Consumers Bill of Rights, claiming that it would discourage lawyers from taking some cases.

Ohio

Legal Consumer’s Bill of Rights: AM Sub SB 80 (2004). Requests that the Ohio Supreme Court adopt a “Legal Consumer Bill of Rights” outlining attorney and client responsibilities.  Attorney responsibilities include: courtesy, professionalism, attention, fee disclosure, responsiveness, control, respect, confidentiality, ethics, non-discrimination, and grievances.  Client responsibilities include: truthfulness, responsiveness, courtesy, communication, and ethics.

2004
Ohio
Legal Consumer’s Bill of Rights: AM Sub SB 80 (2004).

Requests that the Ohio Supreme Court adopt a “Legal Consumer Bill of Rights” outlining attorney and client responsibilities.  Attorney responsibilities include: courtesy, professionalism, attention, fee disclosure, responsiveness, control, respect, confidentiality, ethics, non-discrimination, and grievances.  Client responsibilities include: truthfulness, responsiveness, courtesy, communication, and ethics.

Constitutionality: Unchallenged

Ohio
Legal Consumer’s Bill of Rights: AM Sub SB 80 (2004).

Requests that the Ohio Supreme Court adopt a “Legal Consumer Bill of Rights” outlining attorney and client responsibilities.  Attorney responsibilities include: courtesy, professionalism, attention, fee disclosure, responsiveness, control, respect, confidentiality, ethics, non-discrimination, and grievances.  Client responsibilities include: truthfulness, responsiveness, courtesy, communication, and ethics.