As attorneys, a mistake we can make is to assume that the general public knows something that to us is basic knowledge.
This came up recently when I spoke to someone about a lawyer who was romantically involved with a client. Under Illinois law, it’s unethical for an attorney to date, sleep with or whatever you want to call it with a client. The reason this is true is because your attorney has the possibility of taking advantage of you. You also might not be able to emotionally make the right decision, especially if money is involved.
You hear about this a lot in divorce cases. Those cases can be very intense and emotional and you often work closely with your attorney. I remember when I was a young lawyer hearing about a divorce lawyer who (appropriately) fired his client because they realized they were in love with each other. He saved his career by withdrawing from the case before acting on his feelings.
The exception to this rule is if you were already in a relationship before you become their lawyer. If that’s the case it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea, but the lawyer likely wouldn’t lose their license. Even so, what if the case goes bad? What if you want to switch lawyers? Not to mention the office and court gossip that could ensue.
The extreme version of this is attorneys who pressure clients in to sexual relationships they don’t want to be in. A well known family law attorney in Chicago was accused of this over the summer and arrested on felony charges. If true, he was clearly using his position in a disgusting way and belongs in prison. He should also, of course, never be allowed to practice law again.
It’s not always the lawyers who initiate these relationships. I’ve heard plenty of stories of clients soliciting attorneys as a way to pay off their legal bills. In one case I referred out, the client asked an attorney to meet him at her hotel room. He declined. Even when the attorney doesn’t initiate things, they can not do anything with the client until they’ve broken off the professional relationship.
I certainly hope this doesn’t happen to you. In some cases a lawyer sleeping with their client is akin to statutory rape. If it does happen to you, you may actually have a lawsuit against the attorney. At the very least you should report them to the State.
If you have any questions about this or any other issue, you are welcome to call us for free any time.