It is not uncommon for clients to wonder, “can my attorney sign for me?” In a number of circumstances, it is legal for an attorney to sign for you. However, it will all depend on the type of document that the attorney is signing and the extent of the authority you have granted to the attorney.
If an attorney has signed documents for the client without any authorization by the client, the lawyer has broken the law. If you have retained the attorney, however, you have granted him or her limited authorization to sign on your behalf. Even then, the law profession is regulated by state bars, and the scope of an attorney’s authorization is not without boundaries.
Express Written Consent
There are instances where your attorney might request your written consent to sign and act on your behalf. This written consent will typically come in the form of a Power of Attorney.
A Power of Attorney is a legal document where you provide someone (in this case it would be your lawyer) authority to act in your name. However, a Power of Attorney, in most instances is not a blanket agreement that gives your attorney the authority to sign everything. Most attorney’s agreements detail what kinds of authority you are given them. If your attorney’s agreement for Power of Attorney is not clear, you should review it with someone that understands these types of agreements to get a clear understanding of whether or not your attorney has over stepped his/her bounds.
Here is what our “Limited Power of Attorney” looks like:
“Client hereby grants Attorneys a limited power of attorney to execute on behalf of Client any and all checks, drafts, and negotiable instruments that may be issued in connection with Client’s Matter and to deposit any such funds in Attorneys’ Client Trust Account for appropriate distribution under this Agreement.”
As you can see, the language above only gives our law firm power to act on our client’s behalf in a limited number of circumstances. You should be careful giving anyone complete Power of Attorney, especially when it is not someone you know and trust to the highest degree.
Express Verbal Consent
You can give your attorney consent to act on your behalf verbally. This can apply to a verbal approval to sign on your behalf does not apply in many instances where binding legal actions are involved. An attorney can negotiate on your behalf and settle your case based on your express verbal consent.
Certain documents are filed by the attorney and signed only by the attorney in litigation. However, these documents are signed by the attorney based on your permission. For example, documents outlining the findings of fact and conclusions of law are signed by the attorney based on the original petition and response, which should have already been signed by the client.
However, in most instances, verbal consent will not be enough for an attorney to sign legally binding documents on your behalf.
If you have not given your attorney either verbal or written consent, then your attorney might claim that you gave him implied consent. Implied consent is not given expressly but is given through a person’s actions. It is through the facts and circumstances of the situation that might reasonably lead someone to believe that another person had given consent to an action.
However, implied consent is not a valid argument when it comes to an attorney signing documents for you. Many times implied consent may work when an attorney is negotiating a settlement agreement on your behalf. But, signing one your behalf requires express consent.
Unless you have given your attorney approval to sign for your in writing, most of the time he/she is not able to sign for you. If you feel like your rights have been limited or that your attorney has done something illegal, you should speak with a legal expert.
Matt Pfau is an attorney and founding partner at the law firm Parry & Pfau. Matt has a background in business consulting, estate planning, business start-ups and bankruptcy and is licensed to practice in both Nevada and California. A partner in the firm Parry & Pfau, he can be reached at 702-912-4451 or [email protected].