Professional Guidelines

An agency of the Supreme Court of Virginia

The Virginia State Bar

Professional Guidelines

Rule 1.2

Scope of Representation

  • (a) A lawyer shall abide by a client's decisions concerning the objectives of representation, subject to paragraphs (b), (c), and (d), and shall consult with the client as to the means by which they are to be pursued. A lawyer shall abide by a client's decision, after consultation with the lawyer, whether to accept an offer of settlement of a matter. In a criminal case, the lawyer shall abide by the client's decision, after consultation with the lawyer, as to a plea to be entered, whether to waive jury trial and whether the client will testify.
  • (b) A lawyer may limit the objectives of the representation if the client consents after consultation.
  • (c) A lawyer shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent, but a lawyer may
  • (1) discuss the legal consequences of any proposed course of conduct with a client;
  • (2) counsel or assist a client to make a good faith effort to determine the validity, scope, meaning, or application of the law; and
  • (3) counsel or assist a client regarding conduct expressly permitted by state or other applicable law that conflicts with federal law, provided that the lawyer counsels the client about the potential legal consequence of the client's proposed course of conduct under applicable federal law
  • (d) A lawyer may take such action on behalf of the client as is impliedly authorized to carry out the representation.
  • (e) When a lawyer knows that a client expects assistance not permitted by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law, the lawyer shall consult with the client regarding the relevant limitations on the lawyer's conduct.


Scope of Representation

[1] Both lawyer and client have authority and responsibility in the objectives and means of representation. The client has ultimate authority to determine the purposes to be served by legal representation, within the limits imposed by the law and the lawyer's professional obligations. Within those limits, a client also has a right to consult with the lawyer about the means to be used in pursuing those objectives. In that context, a lawyer shall advise the client about the advantages, disadvantages, and availability of dispute resolution processes that might be appropriate in pursuing these objectives. At the same time, a lawyer is not required to pursue objectives or employ means simply because a client may wish that the lawyer do so. A clear distinction between objectives and means sometimes cannot be drawn, and in many cases the client-lawyer relationship partakes of a joint undertaking. In questions of means, the lawyer should assume responsibility for technical and legal tactical issues, but should defer to the client regarding such questions as the expense to be incurred and concern for third persons who might be adversely affected. These Rules do not define the lawyer's scope of authority in litigation.

[2-3] ABA Model Rule Comments not adopted.

[4] In a case in which the client appears to be suffering mental disability, the lawyer's duty to abide by the client's decisions is to be guided by reference to Rule 1.14.

Independence from Client's Views or Activities

[5] Legal representation should not be denied to people who are unable to afford legal services, or whose cause is controversial or the subject of popular disapproval. By the same token, a lawyer's representation of a client, including representation by appointment, does not constitute an endorsement of the client's political, economic, social or moral views or activities.

Services Limited in Objectives or Means

[6] The objectives or scope of services provided by a lawyer may be limited by agreement with the client or by the terms under which the lawyer's services are made available to the client. For example, a retainer may be for a specifically defined purpose. Representation provided through a legal aid agency may be subject to limitations on the types of cases the agency handles. When a lawyer has been retained by an insurer to represent an insured, the representation may be limited to matters related to the insurance coverage. The terms upon which representation is undertaken may exclude specific objectives or means. Such limitations may exclude objectives or means that the lawyer regards as repugnant or imprudent.

[7] An agreement concerning the scope of representation must accord with the Rules of Professional Conduct and other law. Thus, the client may not be asked to agree to representation so limited in scope as to violate Rule 1.1, or to surrender the right to terminate the lawyer's services or the right to settle litigation that the lawyer might wish to continue.

[8] ABA Model Rule Comment not adopted.

Criminal, Fraudulent and Prohibited Transactions

[9] A lawyer is required to give an honest opinion about the actual consequences that appear likely to result from a client's conduct. The fact that a client uses advice in a course of action that is criminal or fraudulent does not, of itself, make a lawyer a party to the course of action. However, a lawyer may not knowingly assist a client in criminal or fraudulent conduct. There is a critical distinction between presenting an analysis of legal aspects of questionable conduct and recommending the means by which a crime or fraud might be committed with impunity.

[10] When the client's course of action has already begun and is continuing, the lawyer's responsibility is especially delicate. The lawyer is not permitted to reveal the client's wrongdoing, except where permitted or required by Rule 1.6. However, the lawyer is required to avoid furthering the purpose, for example, by suggesting how it might be concealed. A lawyer shall not continue assisting a client in conduct that the lawyer originally supposes is legally proper but then discovers is criminal or fraudulent. See Rule 1.16.

[11] Where the client is a fiduciary, the lawyer may be charged with special obligations in dealings with a beneficiary.

[12] Paragraph (c) applies whether or not the defrauded party is a party to the transaction. Hence, a lawyer should not participate in a sham transaction; for example, a transaction to effectuate criminal or fraudulent escape of tax liability. Paragraph (c) does not preclude undertaking a criminal defense incident to a general retainer for legal services to a lawful enterprise. Paragraph (c)(2) recognizes that determining the validity or interpretation of a statute or regulation may require a course of action involving disobedience of the statute or regulation or of the interpretation placed upon it by governmental authorities. See also Rule 3.4(d).

[13] Paragraph (c)(3) addresses the dilemma facing a lawyer whose client wishes to engage in conduct that is permitted by applicable state or other law but is prohibited by federal law. The conflict between state and federal law makes it particularly important to allow a lawyer to provide legal advice and assistance to a client seeking to engage in conduct permitted by state law. In providing such advice and assistance, a lawyer shall also advise the client about related federal law and policy. Paragraph (c)(3) applies, but is not limited in its application, to any conflict between state and federal marijuana laws.

Virginia Code Comparison

Paragraph (a) has no direct counterpart in the Disciplinary Rules of the Virginia Code. EC 7-7 stated: "In certain areas of legal representation not affecting the merits of the cause or substantially prejudicing the rights of a client, a lawyer is entitled to make decisions on his own. But otherwise the authority to make decisions is exclusively that of the client...." EC 7-8 stated that "n the final analysis, however, the ... decision whether to forego legally available objectives or methods because of nonlegal factors is ultimately for the client.... In the event that the client in a nonadjudicatory matter insists upon a course of conduct that is contrary to the judgment and advice of the lawyer but not prohibited by Disciplinary Rules, the lawyer may withdraw from the employment." DR 7-101(A)(1) provided that a lawyer "shall not intentionally ... [f]ail to seek the lawful objectives of his client through reasonably available means permitted by law.... A lawyer does not violate this Disciplinary Rule, however, by ... avoiding offensive tactics...."

With regard to paragraph (b), DR 7-101(B)(1) provided that a lawyer may, "with the express or implied authority of his client, exercise his professional judgment to limit or vary his client's objectives and waive or fail to assert a right or position of his client."

With regard to paragraph (c), DR 7-102(A)(7) provided that a lawyer shall not "counsel or assist his client in conduct that the lawyer knows to be illegal or fraudulent." DR 7-102(A)(6) provided that a lawyer shall not "participate in the creation or preservation of evidence when he knows or it is obvious that the evidence is false." DR 7-105(A) provided that a lawyer shall not "advise his client to disregard a standing rule of a tribunal or a ruling of a tribunal ... but he may take appropriate steps in good faith to test the validity of such rule or ruling." EC 7-5 stated that a lawyer "should never encourage or aid his client to commit criminal acts or counsel his client on how to violate the law and avoid punishment therefor."

Paragraph (d) had no counterpart in the Virginia Code.

With regard to paragraph (e), DR 2-108(A)(1) provided that a lawyer shall withdraw from representation if "continuing the representation will result in a course of conduct by the lawyer that is illegal or inconsistent with the Disciplinary Rules." DR 9-101(C) provided that "[a] lawyer shall not state or imply that he is able to influence improperly ... any tribunal, legislative body or public official."

Committee Commentary

The Committee adopted this Rule as a more succinct and useful statement regarding the scope of the relationship between a lawyer and the client. However, the Committee moved the language of paragraph (b) of the ABA Model Rule to the Comment section styled "Independence from Client's Views or Activities" since it appears more appropriate as a Comment than a Rule. Subsequent paragraphs were redesignated accordingly.

The Committee added the fourth sentence in Comment [1] requiring lawyers to advise clients of dispute resolution processes that might be "appropriate."

In Comment [7], the Committee used the verb "shall" to match the mandatory standard of the Virginia Code and these Rules.

The amendments effective January 1, 2004, added present paragraph (d) and redesignated former paragraph (d) as present paragraph (e).

The amendment effective March 12, 2022, adopted January 11, 2022. Separated paragraph (c) into paragraphs (1) and (2) and added new paragraph (3); for Comment [12], added “Paragraph (c)(2)” after “…to a lawful enterprise.”; removed the following phrase: “The last clause of paragraph (c)”, and added a new Comment [13].

Updated: March 10, 2022