Law 165 - Who is the Client?
Taimie L. Bryant
M.A. Anthropology, UCLA, 1978
Ph.D. UCLA, 1984
J.D. Harvard, 1987
Our legal system is structured around a view of a client as an autonomous, legally recognized “person” who directs the work of legal representatives. What if someone doesn’t fit that description in one way or another? One example the course explores is the situation of animals, who are not considered legal persons but whose capacity to suffer is legally recognized. Our legal system includes the idea that animals should be protected from humans who intentionally inflict suffering, but what is the basis for that protection and how does it play out, since animals are not legal persons able to bring grievances to courts in their own names? How and when can they be represented in our legal system, especially since we do not understand their language?
Another type of client that does not fit the predominant model is a legally recognized “person” but one who is not fully autonomous: seniors who make decisions in the context of their family relationships. The senior does not always clearly distinguish his or her interests from those of other family members, and yet family members’ interests may not always be harmonious. Moreover, it is often an adult daughter or son who comes to the lawyer for legal representation about matters concerning the parent but in which the daughter or son also has an interest separable from her or his parent’s interests. It can be confusing to sort out who the actual client is and what that client wants to do.
A benefit of exploring legal work in a couple of particular contexts is that we can have a window into legal challenges associated with representing these other seemingly similarly situated clients. There are many other examples of such clients, such as children, undocumented immigrant workers, and people with medical conditions limiting their ability to participate fully in legal decisions concerning them. Another benefit is a better understanding of who has access to our courts; what does it mean to be a “legal person?” The course also allows us to consider whether our legal system is adequate for enabling us to deal with all the things our society considers important. Maybe it is already sufficient; maybe it is not. It depends on how one views the role of law. Finally, if we can solve problems of inclusion and representation in the context of animals and seniors, should elements of the environment, such as trees and rivers, be entitled to legal representation in our system? Should future generations be given a legal voice? What could such legal representation of the environment or future generations, for example, look like?