Lawyers - how do they work?
January 9, 2019 7:31 AM   Subscribe

A friend is engaged in a civil suit in Minnesota. The friend's lawyer has notified the other party that the lawyer is representing my friend. My friend has not received a corresponding notification from the other party's lawyer. Why?

This is an unfortunately high-stakes and acrimonious matter and my friend is understandably worried about the situation.

My friend can't figure out if they have not received a notification from the other party's lawyer because the other party has decided to represent themselves (possible and not out of character) or if lawyers just aren't required to send that kind of notification.

You are not my lawyer or my friend's lawyer, but do you know whether it is customary/required for lawyers acting in for one party in a civil suit to notify the other party that they are acting?

Another unfortunate aspect to this is that neither my friend nor any of their social circle have a lot of money, so our contact with my friend's lawyer has been strictly practical and rushed.
posted by Frowner to Law & Government (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
States vary in their rules, but I've never heard of one where there was a formal requirement to notify anyone of anything until you appear in court on behalf of someone in a litigation (or, as an ethical matter, if you are communicating with the opposing party, but the opposing lawyer should not be contacting your friend directly now that the opposing party knows that your friend is represented--that is also an ethical rule). It's often practical and sensible to do so, but not mandatory.

Has your friend actually confirmed directly with their lawyer that no counsel has contacted them? Because, as I mentioned, opposing counsel should only be communicating with their counsel, and if they're not having detailed regular conversations, I could see how it might not come up.
posted by praemunire at 7:50 AM on January 9, 2019 [6 favorites]

This is all state-by-state, but at least in NY, there wouldn't be any formal process for notifying the other side that you were represented by counsel -- you would ordinarily find out the first time the counsel appears in the action (that is, either files something with the court, or literally shows up in the courtroom). The lawyers might get in touch before that happens, but it wouldn't be a expected or required step.
posted by LizardBreath at 7:50 AM on January 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

Oh, and what praemunire said. Once your friend is known to be represented by counsel, the other side's lawyers ethically may not communicate directly with them (unless your friend's lawyer is present). So that could lead to your friend not knowing what's going on, if their lawyer isn't super communicative about details.
posted by LizardBreath at 7:52 AM on January 9, 2019 [5 favorites]

IAAL. Lizardbreath is correct.
posted by kerf at 7:59 AM on January 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

BTW, I don't have time to drill down into the scope of available records, but it looks like Minnesota puts at least some of its court records online. Your friend could check the docket for their case and see if they can spot opposing counsel (though this would only be if opposing counsel had appeared already).
posted by praemunire at 8:05 AM on January 9, 2019

Your friend's attorney will likely send a copy of everything filed by the opposing counsel to your friend, but a "Notice of Appearance" is a routine filing, so there may simply be a delay by your friend's lawyer in sending a copy to your friend, because it isn't urgent and likely does not need a response from your friend. I put the document title in quotes because the exact title may vary by jurisdiction, but it is likely a one-page document that contains the opposing counsel's contact information and a statement that they will be appearing on behalf of the opposing party.

As noted above, attorneys can't communicate directly with represented parties, so your friend is not going to receive anything directly from opposing counsel - if they do, that is worth a call or email to your friend's lawyer. If you can access the court docket online (typically you can search by the case number or party names), this can be a helpful way to stay quickly up to date with filings by the attorneys, unrepresented parties, and the court.
posted by Little Dawn at 8:21 AM on January 9, 2019 [1 favorite]

IAAL also, and yes, LizardBreath has it.

Your friend could check in with their attorney. I'm sure the attorney will know, because opposing counsel will come down like a ton of bricks if there's any ex parte contact.

The other option is that the other party is unrepresented.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:59 AM on January 9, 2019

In New York, it's when the court sends you the court date that you find all out who the other party's lawyer's on the notification to appear. Also, there might be something asking for the lawyers to try to settle the matter before court.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:10 PM on January 9, 2019

Don't forget that lawyer's look at things through the lens of billable hours. If they don't have to do it, or they're not getting paid to do it, they sometimes won't, if at all.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 12:47 PM on January 9, 2019

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