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Authority

Attorneys Appearing in Court

What is authority? It’s a type of power, gained in a wide variety of ways. You can have authority bestowed onto you by the law; politicians gain the authority to pass laws, ostensibly by being vested with the will of the people. Police gain the authority to enforce those laws, not through a democratic process but by being given certain powers by virtue of being a police officer. These types of authority might be thought of as being extrinsically granted; some common conventions in our society grant authority to certain individuals, and not obeying the rules they set is a breach of social contract, not to mention illegal (unless the rules they’re setting break the boundaries of their authority).

The other type of authority is intrinsic; it is gained through knowledge and trust, rather than by decree. With this type of authority, you might say a person is an authority, as a noun; Hans Zimmer is an authority on writing movie soundtracks. Obviously, Hans hasn’t created literal laws that dictate how a movie soundtrack should be written, but his influence and knowledge of the subject matter make him someone worth talking to if you have a movie soundtrack you want to make.

Attorneys occupy a very peculiar place on the authority spectrum. A great attorney is an authority on branches of law they specialize in, in the same way that Hans is an authority on soundtracks. This type of authority is what usually attracts clients in the first place; they see an attorney’s track record on cases similar to their own, or they hear a attorney has a lot of success in a particular domain, and they seek them out. An attorney also has a type of extrinsic authority; they are authorized to represent their clients in court, and act as their legal counsel.

While it can sometimes seem like those two types of authority are divorced from one another, it does well to remember that unlike certain other authorities, an attorney’s extrinsic authority can be taken from them quickly. When a politician makes a mistake, it can be years before the electorate can replace them. Police officers who make a mistake are usually not subject to public scrutiny, and the mistake is dealt with in house. Attorneys, however, can have their authority to represent a client taken from them by that client, at any time; it’s a weak extrinsic authority. This isn’t a desirable outcome, so clients must be convinced that giving you extrinsic authority is a good idea; you do this by showing the client that you are knowledgeable, reliable, and ethical, always working with their best interest at heart.

That means if for whatever reason, you can’t make a court appearance, you need to assure your client that everything will be alright in your absence. You can do this by finding an experienced appearance attorney, briefing them on the details of the appearance, and explaining to your client why you won’t be there and who will be there in your stead. Your authority, both intrinsic and extrinsic, comes from trust.