You have heard about colleagues or fellow attorneys doing it, but you never thought you would be in such a situation … You crossed the line between professional and personal with a client, and now you want to know if there are legal ramifications for your indiscretions. Unfortunately, the answer is as unclear as how you probably feel about the situation.
As a publication from Berkeley Law points out, lawyers are human too. But, when do you stop being a lawyer and simply become a “person”?
What the law says
You might think your situation is unique, but the truth is that such indiscretions happened often enough that states found the need to create some rules. The majority of state rules outright prohibit romantic relationships between attorneys and clients, so long as the relationships did not exist before the attorney began representing the client.
That said, California rule provides for a bit more leeway. Per the rule, romantic relationships between an attorney and client are only forbidden if the relationship causes the attorney to perform his or her services incompetently.
For the record, and though it is unlikely to apply, another rule states that attorneys may not demand or require a client to engage in sexual relations with him or her as a condition of professional representation.
Sexual relations may cause a breach of fiduciary duty
Many law students laugh over the fact that such rules even exist, but per the publication, there is good reason for them, and that is to protect the fiduciary duty. In an attorney-client relationship, the lawyer holds the highest power of trust. It is an “unequal” relationship, according to the law, and so any sexual relationship between a client and attorney can be perceived as an exploitation of the lawyer’s power. In other words, the law views a lawyer’s engagement with a client as an abuse of trust and power.