Z is for “Zealous”, How far can your Lawyer go in representing you in Bankruptcy?

By Christopher C. Carr, Esq. Chester County bankruptcy attorney.

Tel: 610-380-7969 Email: cccarresq@aol.com Web: westchesterbankruptcyattorney.org

“Have Gun, Will travel”


Richard Boone as Paladin

Z is for Zealous.

Subsection 2 of the preamble to the Pennsylvania Rules of Professional Conduct: (“RPC”) “A Lawyer’s Responsibilities” states thatas advocate for his/her clients, “a lawyer zealously asserts the client’s position under the rules of the adversary system”.

Sounds simple enough but of course, the RPC nowhere gives any guidance as to the meaning of the word “Zealous”. Encarta defines the term simply as: “actively and unreservedly enthusiastic”. It is a sort of “boundary” term in the law in that we come to understand what it means more by understanding what we as lawyers serving bankruptcy clients can and cannot do in its name.  So let’s approach it from that angle.

A prerequisite for zealous representation is competence: RPC Rule 1.1 states that a lawyer shall provide competent representation to a client. Competent representation requires the legal expertise, skill, thoroughness and preparation reasonably necessary for the representation. In the bankruptcy context this means that a lawyer must have studied and understood the aspects of the Bankruptcy Code that are implicated in any representation.  Even if this requirement is met in general, should he or she not be well versed in a particular sub-area, there is a duty to seek the assistance and mentoring of another attorney who has the requisite skill set. For example, the implications of divorce for bankruptcy are so complex and localized/varied to the laws of each of the several United State as to be beyond the ken of most bankruptcy lawyers and equally so for most divorce specialists…cross disciplinary expertise must often be sought to answer these questions.

However, it is clear that the lawyer who is competent is not thereby necessarily zealous.  Zealous representation, which is not defined in the RPC, serves for most as the benchmark for excellence. Perry Mason may not have had all it its legal points correct but it does stand in the eyes of the public as the more dinified epitome of this attribute. For those who consider law practice more a profession than a business, it evokes the image of a crusader for justice. To others, however it suggests a fanatical, “no-holds-barred” advocate, willing to do anything for a client (for a fee). A hired gun… Have gun, will travel. 

Thus, being overly “zealous” clearly can land a lawyer in deep trouble.  Some attorneys have attempted to use it to justify unacceptable conduct even though it may have disciplinary or malpractice liability consequences (or both).  For example, we bankruptcy lawyers frequently are asked clients for advice on what might be called “pre-bankruptcy asset protection planning.”  While the ethical dangers associated with advice in this area are very real [See, for example, Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct (“ORPC”) Section 8.4(c), prohibiting a lawyer from engaging in conduct involving fraud], the consequences can reach beyond the realm of ethics and involve actual criminal liability for both transgressing client and counsel. This will reach to knowingly assisting a client who wishes to perpetrate a fraud on the bankruptcy court.  See my blog on the topic of Bankruptcy Fraud for more information. For example, in a recent West Virginia case a bankruptcy lawyer was criminally indicted for advising his clients to transfer a mobile home to a relative before bankruptcy so as to attempt to “remove” the asset from the reach of the Trustee in Bankruptcy.

Thus while lawyers clearly have an obligation to advance their clients’ cases with competence and enthusiasm, they also have an obligation as officers of the bankruptcy court they serve to refrain from knowingly counseling or assisting a client to commit a crime or fraud. RCP 1.2 (d).

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Law Offices of Christopher C. Carr, MBA,  P.C., is a quality bankruptcy and debt relief practice, located in  Valley Township, west of Coatesville, Pennsylvania, where Attorney Christopher Carr, a Chester County bankruptcy attorney, who has over 30 years if diversified ;egal experience, concentrates on serving the residents of and businesses located within Western Chester County and Eastern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, including the communities in and around Atglen, Bird in Hand, Caln, Christiana, Coatesville, Downingtown, Eagle, Exton, Fallowfield Gap, Honeybrook, Lancaster, Lincoln University, Modena, New Holland, Parkesburg, Paradise, Ronks, Sadsbury, Thorndale, Valley Township, Wagontown & West Chester,  Pennsylvania. If you reside or do business in the area and need assistance with a legal issue, please call Mr. Carr at (610)380-7969 or write him at cccarresq@aol.com today!  

I also provide Mortgage Modification Services.

©Christopher C. Carr, Attorney at Law 2012, All Rights Reserved

Picture credit: Wikpedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Have_Gun_%E2%80%93_Will_Travel