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On Representing Family and Friends

Representing friends and family members is problematic.

There is rarely a technical conflict of interest, but such clients are tricky ones.

Some lessons from my personal studies at the University of Lawyer Life Experience:

* The "simple" car crash case (clear liability and limited damages) for your friend's daughter, will turn out to be more complicated than expected. Of course, we all know that any given case can only be described as simple in hindsight. For reasons which I cannot explain, that's somehow easier to forget when it's someone you know.

* If something can go wrong, it is often more likely to go wrong when it is someone who is close to you. Even if a problem can be easily fixed, such circumstances are A LOT more embarrassing.

* Discounting your fee can have the perverse effect of making someone feel like they got a bad deal. I once cut a contingent fee in half for a small case I handled for a fellow parishioner. The immediate response was something to the effect that they should have just gone to one of the big TV advertising PI firms.

* Cases for those you know are actually a lot more stressful than with clients drawn from the general public. You worry about how the case might impact social interactions.

* There are some things you just don't want to know. Do I really need the details of my neighbor's recurrent yeast infections? Or someone's long standing hemorrhoid problem? It might have nothing to do with the injuries at issue, but it's all still there in the medical records.

* If you lose - and any case can be lost - explaining it is considerably more awkward.

Bottom line: Be wary of getting involved.

Your intentions be good, but the better practice is to refer the case to someone else. (And taking a referral fee would be quite okay.)

Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should.

Have I followed this rule consistently?

Of course not

There are lessons I learn, forget and relearn all the time. This one, however, is a lesson that has stuck with me better than most.


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