Representing Family Members


April 20, 2016 – Every practicing attorney has been presented with the “opportunity” to represent a friend or family member in a legal matter. Whether it is a parking ticket or a bankruptcy filing, there is often a tendency to expect the attorney to provide the representation pro bono. Because Abraham Lincoln once said “A lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade,” I personally, usually tell the potential client that even if I want to do it for free- I must collect a retainer payment… some amount of currency no matter how small, something to impart that a service is being performed for them rather than an interesting project we are working on together.

This practice, in my own personal experience, has an important psychological effect on the representation. Once past this hurdle however, come the real stumbling blocks. Maintaining ethical conduct being a given, there are other problems such as what do you do if other family members interject themselves into your representation of the client, giving their expectations and suggestions. Will they get upset with you if you don’t let them act as a puppet- master? Also, do you go beyond the scope of your retainer agreement just because the client is known to you personally? For instance, if you represent such a client in 2 separate drug possession cases from 2 jurisdictions and secure a global, non-jail/probation term but the client fails to appear for the sentencing and picks up a 3rd charge; do you represent them on the violation of their probation as well as the new charge? Do you make a motion to reduce their bail of they’re in custody on the warrant for the new charge? What about if the judge enter a sentence believed by your client to be illegal; do you appeal the decision for the client? What if you are representing the client and get them out of a jail sentence and they don’t turn their life around but rather use their freedom to commit another crime – hurting another or themselves.

These are all questions that the pro bono lawyer must face when zealously representing their client. Ask your lawyer friend to help you when you are in need – most of us entered this profession to do just that- but also remember that when you ask him or her to add legal counsel to their existing role of friend or family- the burden may be to great for them to bear and it is helpful for all parties involved to determine from the outset if a) this is a good idea that and that all are comfortable b) what is the scope of the representation and what possible limits and fallouts may occur c) will you and the client be able to handle the fact that the ancillary people from your common family or group are not part of the attorney client relationship and cannot interfere no matter how much they may desire. Anyway, enjoy your evening – visit notguiltyNJ.com for more blogs like this – peace!

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