Graduating from law school and passing the bar exam in the state(s) wherein you plan on practicing is a tremendous feeling. You have spent countless hours studying, reading cases, preparing for mock arguments, enduring final exams, and then prepared for the bar exam and now you have passed and are ready to commence the actual practice of law. However, there is an abundance of learning that you have to do because there are many practical implications of the practice of law that are simply not taught in law school. Those that have had the benefit of a family member, employer, or mentor who is an attorney may have shed some light on these points; however, listed below are some practical tips that every newly admitted attorney can benefit from in addition to continuing to expand your abilities as an attorney.
It is bound to happen that a friend or a family member is going to need your services as an attorney. The assistance that they may need could be something as simple as assisting them with a real estate purchase, a minor traffic ticket wherein they are afraid to go to Court on their own, or something more complex such as they were sued by someone and do not know where to turn. Now, depending on what areas of the law that you practice in, you may have to refer them to a colleague for the sheer fact that you are not experienced in the area of the law where they need assistance.
However, what do you do when the problem that your friend has is in an area of the law in which you are well versed? There is no brightline answer to this question and it truly reduces down to a judgment call as to what you think that you should do and the relationship that you have with the friend/family member. There will be some inevitable pitfalls that you will be facing if you decide to take the case.
First, do you charge your friend for your services? It is not an easy question to answer and it is completely up to you as to how you proceed on this issue. The reality is that you should not have to work for free but at the same time this person is your friend/family so you need to take that into account as well. Mind you, if the task is something simple such as preparing a will or an abbreviated appearance in Court to negotiate a traffic ticket; it is up to you as to what you charge them. However, what do you do when the matter is something more complex like a divorce or a lawsuit, which will inherently occupy far more time than drafting a will or a traffic ticket. The answer again is subjective and you have to do what you feel is best to do. There is no right or wrong answer but it is certainly something that you need to spend some time thinking about even before you agree to take on their case.
Second, friends and family often do not listen to you in the same manner that a regular client does and the reason for that is that the relationship is different. Your friend/family member knows you personally. You have likely spent a lot of time with them, they know personal details about your life, and the overall relationship is just different. Thus, when it comes time to your assumption of your role as their attorney and you have formally put on your “attorney hat” to help them; they are likely still viewing you as their friend/family member and not their attorney because they are not separating the relationship in the same manner that you may be doing. They still view you as their friend/family member and they will not treat you with the same sense of listening and/or respect that a regular client (who is not related to you) would in a similar case. Thus, what are you to do when you hit the proverbial wall because your friend/family member client is not listening. The best advice that I can provide for when this circumstance has occurred in my practice is to sit them down with you in person and tell them that while you may be friends/family; you are their attorney and they are the client and they need to listen to you and take your advice. Presuming that this conversation does not work and they continue to do whatever it is they are doing and refusing to listen to your professional opinion; then you may need to consider advising them to seek another attorney who better fits their needs (as you may have to do with a non-related client at some point in your career). It is not worth losing a friendship or ceasing communication with a family member because you could not work with them in a professional setting when they needed your help. Do not be ashamed if something such as this occurs; use it as a learning experience for what to do versus what not to do next time this type of situation presents itself.
To read part one, please see What Law School Doesn’t Teach You Part One.
To read part two, please see What Law School Doesn’t Teach You Part Two.
To read pat three, please see What Law School Doesn’t Teach You Part Three.
To read part four, please see What Law School Doesn’t Teach You Part Four.
To read part five, please see Surprisingly Free for an interview and part five.