If you’re like me, you occasionally get calls from family or friends about legal issues, and not because they want to hire you. Additionally, because you’re a lawyer, you get those occasional legal questions while out and about socially. People making conversation. Or so you think.
Until suddenly you get a notice from the court indicating that someone was claiming you as their lawyer.
While attorney-client relationships are not supposed to happen unless there is a mutual understanding between the attorney and the individual, it’s a pitfall that happens. Avoiding the inadvertent relationship means a little extra care by the attorney, but it’s not too difficult to do. In an article for the ABA, Evan L. Loeffler provides a few great tips on keeping everything above board and avoiding those tricky situations.
- Don’t give legal advice outside of your field of expertise.
- Don’t give legal advice on a situation pending in a jurisdiction where you are not licensed to practice.
- If you determine the other party already has a lawyer, resist the urge to second guess.
- Make it clear the person may have a legal problem that he or she should consult with a lawyer about (good for those cocktail party questions). “If that lawyer is you, offer to schedule an appointment in your office and discuss what you will charge.”
- Encourage the questioner to seek formal advice quickly, especially if there is a statute of limitations affecting a possible claim.
- Always follow up in writing.
- Remember that whatever the client told you is presumed to be in strictest confidence.
Check the whole article, published in July/August 2010 issue, here at the ABA. The article also has a sample letter for declining representation, a copy of which should be kept on file each time it is sent out.
- Law Practice Tip #2: Evaluate a case in 15 minutes (lawafterthebar.wordpress.com)