LawAccess NSW > Representing Yourself > Legal Skills > Dealing with your lawyer

The role of a lawyer

A lawyer's job is to listen to your problem, give you legal advice, discuss your options, take instructions about what you want to do and help you understand how the law applies to your case. Your lawyer may even represent you if you go to court.

When a lawyer is working for you, they have a number of duties. They must: 

    ​Follow instructio​​​ns

    Your lawyer should listen to you, give you advice, take instructions about what you want to do about your legal problem and then carry out those instructions.

    It is important that you are honest with your lawyer as their advice will depend on the information you give them.

    After listening to you, your lawyer will give you some advice. Sometimes it may be difficult for your lawyer to give you legal advice straight away. They may need to do some research and give you advice later.

    Your lawyer has a duty to advise you of all your options. You should consider the advice your lawyer gives you, however, the final decision about what you want to do, will be yours.

    If you don't understand what they have told you, you should tell them.

    While your lawyer has a duty to act on your instructions, your lawyer cannot do anything illegal when following your instructions. Your lawyer also has an ethical obligation not to mislead the court or waste the court's time.

    Maintain confidentiality

    Most conversations with your lawyer will be confidential, which means that a lawyer cannot discuss your matter with anyone including the police or the court without your permission.

    There are some situations where your lawyer may tell someone information about you or your case. For example, where:

    • a particular law requires them to
    • it will prevent a serious criminal offence from occurring, or
    • your safety or the safety of someone else is at risk.

    Avoid conflicts of interest

    A lawyer cannot work for you if:

    • they acted for the other person or people involved in the past and they have confidential information about them that might negatively affect their interests.
    • they are also acting for the other person or people involved, and they may not be able to act in the best interests of you both.
    • your interests and the lawyer's own interests clash.

    If a lawyer does any of the above, this could be a 'conflict of interest'.

    If the lawyer finds out about a conflict of interest, they should let you know. If you think your lawyer may have a conflict of interest, you should discuss this with them.

    Communicate efficiently and in a timely manner

    When doing work for you, your lawyer has a duty to communicate carefully and efficiently. Your lawyer should give you regular updates about the progress of your matter.

    Act honestly and in your best interests

    Your lawyer should always be honest with you, and your best interests should always be your lawyer's main concern. However, lawyers cannot act illegally or unethically. Your lawyer should tell you their opinion about the strengths and weaknesses of your case, and whether they think you have 'reasonable prospects of success'. This means whether you have a good chance of winning your case.

    If you think your lawyer has not been honest or has put the interests of others, including their own, before yours, you can make a complaint.

    Act with skill and diligence

    Your lawyer should have experience in the area of law your case falls within. If you are unsure, you should ask your lawyer how long they have been practising in the area, or how many cases similar to yours they have been involved in.

    Further i​​​nformation

    ​​Office of​ the Legal Services Commissioner Fact sheet 15: Hiring a Legal Practitioner