St. Mary's Law Journal


Eli Wald


Attorney loyalty to clients is considered a cornerstone of the attorney-client relationship. Yet, loyalty is underexplored, misunderstood, and the subject of heated discord. Advocates of client-centered loyalty and their opponents both fail to provide a compelling accounting of loyalty to clients and its consequences. Leaving loyalty in limbo is an unacceptable state of affairs. The legal profession bears the continuous burden of accounting for its own practices. Because the Bar cannot assert broad client-centered loyalty as self-explanatory, the burden of disproving loyalty shifts to the critics. Critics of broad loyalty to clients are not helping advance the discourse by advocating sweeping reform proposals divorced from practical realities, which purport to turn lawyers into gatekeepers who serve abstract notions of public good. As stewards of the “rule of law,” lawyers bear the burden of justifying loyalty. The legal profession’s inability to defend broad loyalty to clients carries with it a corresponding duty to develop a workable concept. If the legal professional wishes to continue benefitting from its elevated economic and cultural status, it must live up to its obligations and persuasively account for its practices, client-centered loyalty included. Attorneys have a duty to serve constituencies other than clients—including the courts, the justice system, and the public good. These multiple interests impose limits on attorney loyalty to clients. The Bar has eluded critics’ challenges of loyalty by asserting critics simply do not understand. Yet, what lawyers do use is a “limited agency,” which requires serving multiple constituencies other than clients. Lawyers need to learn to strike a balance between loyalty to clients and loyalties to the legal system and the public. The legal profession must move forward implementing its obligations pursuant to the “limited agency” model.


St. Mary's University School of Law