State Bar of Montana

A Client's Bill of Rights

Your relationship with your lawyer is governed both by the agreement you make with the lawyer and by the laws and rules that govern the lawyer's conduct. Those laws and rules give you rights that you should know about before you agree to retain an attorney.

1. Before you retain a lawyer to represent you, you have a right to:

  • Know about the lawyer's education, training and experience.
  • Receive an estimate of the costs and fees the lawyer expects to incur in representing you.
  • You should recognize that some legal matters become more complicated and expensive than originally anticipated.
  • Understand the possible consequences of the representation, including, for example, adverse consequences that may result if litigation is unsuccessful.
  • Know whether the lawyer has previously represented any adverse parties (anyone who is or may be on the other side, this may include potential witnesses).
  • Discuss and bargain about the proposed fee and the rate or percentage of the fee.
  • Know if the lawyer carries malpractice insurance.

2. At the time you retain a lawyer, you have a right to:

  • Agree - in writing, if you request - on the services to be provided and the fees to be charged. If you agree on a contingent fee, the fee percentage should be stated. If you agree to fees based on hourly or other unit rates, the rate should be stated.
  • Direct the objectives of the representation, unless the objectives are illegal or unethical 

3. When a lawyer is representing you, you have a right to:

  • Be represented competently.
  • Be represented zealously, but honestly and with respect for the rights of others and the orderly administration of justice.
  • Receive from your lawyer information about the representation and copies of documents prepared on your behalf.
  • Ask about the progress of the case at reasonable intervals.
  • Demand reasonable diligence and promptness by your lawyer.
  • Expect your lawyer to explain matters so you can make informed decisions about the representation.
  • Be consulted on the means your lawyer will use in representing you.
  • Learn about and explore methods other than litigation for resolving your disputes, including mediation, arbitration and conciliation.
  • In a civil matter, decide whether to accept an offer of settlement.
  • In a criminal matter, decide what plea to enter, whether to waive a jury trial, and whether you will testify.
  • Demand that your lawyer exercise independent professional judgment on your behalf, free from compromising influences.
  • Receive a statement showing the work performed by your lawyer and the costs incurred before you pay any bill.
  • Be referred to other counsel if your lawyer cannot represent you properly and have a free copy of your file provided to new counsel.

4. At any time after you have consulted a lawyer, you have a right to:

  • Expect the lawyer to preserve your confidences, secrets, and statements revealed during the consultation.
  • Expect the lawyer to be courteous and considerate.
  • Seek a second opinion with the consent of your present counsel and the knowledge of your representation provided to those you contact.
  • Contact the State Bar of Montana if you believe the lawyer's fees are inappropriate.
  • Contact the Supreme Court's Office of Discipline Counsel (406-442-1648) if you believe the lawyer has acted unethically.

You Do Not Have a Right To:

  • Ask your lawyer to violate the law, act unethically, take unreasonable or arbitrary positions against your lawyer's professional judgment, or do anything repugnant to your lawyer's own sense of honor and propriety.
  • Demand that your lawyer endorse your political, economic, social or moral views or activities.

How You Can Hold Down Your Legal Fees

  • Before you visit the lawyer, gather all papers related to the case and write down all facts you can recall and the names, addresses and telephone numbers of all persons involved.
  • Be as accurate as you can. Disclose the facts fully and honestly, good and bad.
  • Get legal advice early, before signing documents or taking legal action. It is less difficult and less expensive to prevent a problem than to fix it.
  • Avoid unnecessary telephone calls to your lawyer, but be sure to call to provide any significant information you acquire since you last spoke to your lawyer.
  • Ask how much legal action will cost, and if you cannot recover those costs through litigation, explore methods other than litigation, or abandon the claim.

What do I do if I have a complaint against my lawyer?

A lawyer's conduct is closely governed by the Rules of Professional Conduct. Failure to follow the Rules can result in a lawyer being disciplined by the Montana Supreme Court. If you believe that a lawyer has acted unethically, you may address a complaint to the court's Office of Discipline Counsel at 1-877-442-1648 (toll-free, in-state only) or (406) 442-1648 or forms and information are available at their website at http://www.montanaodc.org. The office will acknowledge your complaint and send a copy of it to the attorney involved, so that he or she has an opportunity to respond. Many complaints can be quickly resolved through an open discussion of the problem. If not, an investigation will be undertaken to determine whether the attorney has violated the Rules. If a violation is found, it is up to the Montana Supreme Court to determine what actions will be taken.

This information is intended to inform you about Montana law generally. It is not intended as advice. You are encouraged to speak to an attorney regarding the specifics of your situation.


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