Clients often ask a lot of their lawyers, but there are some types of favors you should never do for a client.
Some lawyers have learned this the hard way, and have faced discipline as a result. While they may have had their client’s best intentions at heart, their actions violated Rules of Professional Conduct, not to mention common sense.
Whether you’re just starting out or you need a reminder about ethics, here are five favors for your client that you should do your best to avoid:
- Don’t pick up your client’s children from school. An Indiana lawyer did this on her client’s behalf, and recently got her law license suspended for six months, the ABA Journal reports. The lawyer, Cecelia Hemphill, took her client’s kids to dinner and then drove them around for hours without telling the other parent — who was frantically worried about their whereabouts.
- Don’t loan money to your client. Some states’ ethics rules specifically prohibit lawyers from loaning money to a client for any purpose, though others make exceptions. Even a loan from a lawyer’s spouse can cross the line, as happened with one Ohio lawyer’s discipline case, according to Prof. Alberto Bernabe’s Professional Responsibility Blog.
- Don’t get involved in issues outside your scope of representation. You’ve been hired to deal with a specific legal matter for your client, and it’s all set out in writing. So if your divorce client also gets caught shoplifting, consider referring her to another attorney, or have her sign another representation agreement if you choose to take the case. A clearly defined scope is also key to avoiding confusion in corporate litigation, Inside Counsel reports.
- Don’t use your lawyerly status to make threats. Your professional degree, law license, and lawyerly demeanor can be quite intimidating. But as superheroes know, with great power comes great responsibility. Don’t try to instill fear in your client’s enemies with dishonest or frivolous threats, one state bar counsel advises. Ethics rules also generally bar the use of threats of criminal prosecution to gain advantage in an unrelated civil lawsuit.
- Don’t offer, or agree to, sexual favors. A reminder that ethics rules generally prohibit sex with clients, unless there was a pre-existing sexual relationship. This includes clients in jail, as a recent case shows that sexual favors are most definitely not a part of the attorney-client privilege.
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