Representing Relatives: Should You Work For Family Members?
Your family members are probably some of the last people you’ve ever considered representing. But when a situation arises where your immediate or extended family members need legal help or representation, there’s a good chance they’ll look to you for guidance. There are some obvious perks to representing relatives in a legal matter, however, there are also a few things you will want to take into account before assisting a loved one in a court of law.
First and Foremost, is Representing Relatives Legally Possible?
Technically lawyers are allowed to represent anyone, including members of their own families. However, depending on the state where you practice and type of case you need to handle, the answer to this question may be buried beneath a mountain of fine print and gray areas. This is a particular issue for divorce and end-of-life matters, so it’s important to do your homework before proceeding.
What Are Some Benefits of Working For Family Members?
If you do choose to represent a family member in court, there are some distinct advantages that this can offer.
- The person you’re representing likely trusts you – a lot – otherwise they probably wouldn’t have sought your help in the first place.
- Representing family members can help you to build your client base. This can give you credibility and confidence as you grow your practice.
- Depending on your relative’s financial situation and how close your relationship is to them, you have the option as their attorney to accept their case pro-bono or provide a discounted service rate. But just a heads up, certain relatives may expect their legal fees to be automatically waived simply because they are your family. So you’ll want to establish that understanding and make it clear to them at the very beginning.
The Possible Downsides:
Benefits aside, there are definitely some potential downsides to representing your family members. To help lessen the impacts of possible negative outcomes, you need to keep lines of communication open and ensure understanding by every party, every step of the way. Be straightforward about the likelihood of success from the case you take on for a family member. Give them the honest truth about whether their case is likely to turn out favorably and what might happen if it doesn’t.
If you represent a family member who ends up losing their case, you may not be in good graces with the rest of the family for quite a while. In addition, emotions can run high in a strenuous legal proceeding involving a close loved one. Could your ties to this particular person influence the way you conduct your routine practices? Are you able to keep your emotions in check to proceed rationally and impartially to provide the best possible verdict? You have to logically determine whether the risks associated with representing your family outweigh the positives.
While there is nothing unethical about representing your family members, per se, you do run into the possibility of navigating into ethical gray zones. For example, offering legal advice at a family dinner or gathering could land you in an unintentional attorney-client relationship. If you have a family member that’s insistent you advise them about whether their employees or landlord can do x or y, divert the conversation to a scheduled consultation in your office during business hours.
Above all, you need to keep your professional representation of your family members transparent and aboveboard. If you feel that you can’t do this and represent one of your kin, you may need to pass up the opportunity to represent them. The closest and most caring of your family members will surely understand that you must uphold the highest professional standards for your firm.
As always, I’d like to thank all of my fellow attorneys and followers for checking in and I hope the above article has been helpful to you! Have you ever personally decided to provide legal services to a relative? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject! Please share your experiences in the comment box below.
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