Public Interest Law Reporter


Alan Mills

Document Type

Special Feature


In most cases, lawyers file cases on behalf of clients. However, lawyers do not-get to make substantive decisions about the cases we work on; our clients do. Illinois Rule of Professional Conduct 1.2 makes this clear: [A] lawyer shall abide by a client's decisions concerning the objectives of representation and .. . Shall consult with the client as to the means by which they are to be pursued. But what happens in a class action lawsuit? Once a class is certified, lawyers represent both named plaintiffs and every member of the class. What happens when there is a conflict between what the named plaintiff wants, and what the lawyer believes is in the best interest of the class? There have been many court decisions on how these questions are to be resolved in the context of class action cases filed for money damages -consumer fraud, anti-trust securities fraud, etc. But the issue is much murkier when the lawyer is involved in litigation to further a specific social goal or effect some systemic change, cases generally referred to as public interest litigation. Does the lawyer represent the individual named plaintiff, or the absent members of the class?" And in the case of the latter, how is a lawyer to gauge the desires of the class?" Do organizations working in the same field have a say? How these questions are resolved can have a tremendous impact on the course of these cases, and in some cases a very real impact on the people most affected by the systems which are the subject of the cases, such as prisons, child protection agencies, and schools. Herein, I will examine recent conflicts arising in recent class actions in Chicago and my representation of a class of prisoners with mental illnesses against the Illinois Department of Corrections. From there, I will review relevant case law and applicable rules of professional conduct that govern common ethical issues in class action lawsuits. Lastly, I will address the dynamics of the attorney-client relationship and how they may manifest in the class action ethical dilemmas.