In choosing a concise way to define the unique identity of my law firm, I chose to use two simple words: advice and counsel. Though these words have similar meanings, there are nuanced differences that are particularly relevant to the practice of law.
For instance, advisor is more often used to refer to an individual who provides advice about highly specialized or technical matters. There are numerous examples of this, for instance a doctor gives his patients medical advice. The President relies on his military advisors in making decisions regarding complex military matters.
Counsel, on the other hand, tends to encompass broader social, ethical, and moral considerations. For instance, individuals seek marriage advice through a marriage counselor, not a marriage advisor. Counseling also suggests a more active, collaborative relationship, where the counselor and counselee work together to determine the best course of action to deal with a particular problem.
Law is different from many other vocations in that lawyers are often called upon to provide not only highly specialized and technical advice regarding a client’s legal rights and obligations, but also broader counsel regarding the social, moral, and ethical implications of a given course of action.
This unique aspect of law as a profession is recognized in the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, the Rules which govern the ethical practice of law in Texas. Section II is entitled “Counselor” yet, reflecting the close relationship between the two words, Rule 2.01 is titled “Advisor.” The text of the Rule reads: “In advising or otherwise representing a client, a lawyer shall exercise independent professional judgment and render candid advice.”
This simple statement sets out the lawyer’s duty in broad terms, but does not provide much in the way of specific guidance about how a lawyer ought to advise his or her clients. The official comments to Rule 2.01 help flesh out a lawyer’s responsibilities:
Advice couched in narrow legal terms may be of little value to a client, especially where practical considerations, such as costs or effects on other people, are predominant. Purely technical legal advice, therefore, can sometimes be inadequate. It is proper for a lawyer to refer to relevant moral and ethical considerations in giving advice. Although a lawyer is not a moral advisor as such, moral and ethical considerations impinge upon most legal questions and may decisively influence how the law will be applied. A[lthough] a client may expressly or impliedly ask the lawyer for purely technical advice. . . the lawyer’s responsibility as advisor may include indicating that more may be involved than strictly legal considerations.
I often say that there are two kinds of lawyers: those who tell their client’s what they want to hear, and those that tell their client’s what they need to hear. In my experience, the first kind are more common, but the second are much more valuable. As an attorney, I believe it is my duty to not only provide accurate and insightful legal advice, but also to provide thoughtful and prudent counsel that will empower them to control their legal costs, find efficient solutions to their problems, and maximize their positive social, economic, and personal goodwill.