Since I began volunteering with the Housing Justice Project in July, I have had the privilege of working with a wonderful group of people and have enjoyed the opportunity to help clients facing very personal, life-changing issues. As a new attorney, this experience has helped to shape my approach to the practice of law. Perhaps most significantly, it has taught me the importance of identifying and respecting the client’s goals for representation.
As attorneys, RPC 1.2 (a) instructs us to “abide by a client’s decisions concerning the objectives of representation”. In order to comply with this directive it is imperative to come to a clear understanding of the client’s goals at the outset of representation. Because HJP assists low-income clients with eviction-related issues, the client’s goals are tied to their very basic need for housing. It is therefore vitally important to determine if the client’s goal is to continue the tenancy or if they would rather have the opportunity to pursue alternate housing arrangements. Because many of our clients come to HJP for assistance on the morning of their scheduled hearing, time is of the essence. Given the urgency of the situation, it is often impossible to fully unpack the many factors that motivate the client’s goals. Although I may form an opinion with regard to what a favorable outcome might be, this decision ultimately belongs to the client.
Clients who come to HJP for assistance are frequently facing difficult circumstances beyond their eviction-related issues. These circumstances often form the basis for the client’s goals for representation. Although I can help the client by evaluating the facts as they are presented and providing counsel, RPC 1.2 (a) requires that the client’s goals guide the representation. I have learned that before I can help those who come to HJP for assistance, I have to listen carefully and allow them to tell me how I can best help them.