Can paralegal see client socially after legal relationship ends?

One reader of this blog arrived here as a result of a Google search that asked, “can paralegal see client socially after legal relationship ends?” Here are some thoughts on the topic:

It is likely that you will not find a direct answer to this question in any of the various professional association Codes of Ethics such as the NFPA Model Code of Ethics and Professional Responsibility, but the answer can be derived from such codes as it can be derived for attorneys from the ABA Model Code. In general, since there are no paralegal code of ethics enforceable in the same way as the attorney’s bar rules are enforceable against attorneys, regulation of paralegal conduct is derivative of the rules governing attorneys. So, it is appropriate to look to rules governing attorneys and the advice given to them on issues such as this based on those rules.

Certainly both attorneys and paralegals must refrain from becoming engaged in an intimate relationship with a client during the course of the professional relationship. There are several reasons for this, including:

  • Such a relationship can affect the objectivity of the members of the legal team
  • The lawyer and paralegal may be taking advantage (even if not consciously) of the already existing special relationship with the client – on in which the client is dependent upon the lawyer or paralegal
  • In most instances legal proceeding are stressful and traumatic placing the client in the position of not being able to make objective decisions about intimate relationships with others involved in those proceedings
  • Such a relationship can affect the expectations of the client

For these reasons and others dating clients during the professional relationships is not permitted as it violates the Code provisions requiring objectivity and the like. For example, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers advises :

D. Lawyers and Clients Should Maintain an Appropriate Professional Relationship.

Sometimes friendships and even romances develop between lawyers and clients. Many lawyers have close personal friendships with former clients. But because of the intense emotional nature of a divorce, it is usually best for lawyers and clients to defer establishing a social relationship until after the case is over. Romantic relationships are not advisable as they interfere with a lawyer’s objectivity and affect a client’s expectations. A divorce lawyer and a client should never have a sexual relationship during the case.

This does not, however, settle the question as to whether a paralegal can ethically date a client once the professional relationship is over. While the issue of objectivity may be eliminated, there is still the question of whether the client has gained enough distance from the professional events to make a free, knowing and independent decision to enter into the romantic relationship. Keep in mind that the lawyer and paralegal must not only avoid a direct violation of the specific rules of conduct, but also ” avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.” NFPA Model Code EC-1.3(b).

Finally, keep in mind that whatever the rules of conduct may provide, your employer’s vision of what constitutes “the appearance of impropriety” should be considered. Should the client again need legal services make sure you advise your attorney of the romantic relationship before the client engages the services of the attorney. It may affect the lawyer’s decision on whether or not to take the matter, and whether to assign you as a paralegal on that matter.

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2 Comments

  • […] previously discussed some of the implications of sexual relationships with a client and one instance of misfortune resulting from an interoffice romance between legal […]

  • Twyla Tibbertsma says:

    I’ve edited out identifying information from this comment for posting here as I have no way to verify the accuracy of the statements. It does, however, illustrate the point – even if the statements are not true, the fact that the allegations could be and are made should be enough to cause us all to avoid intimate socialization with clients:

    ________ is a paralegal who works for _________ law firm In ________.
    This is the firm we hired to represent our son 2 terms prison time. Upon his 2nd release when he went to Mr __________, where __________ pursued our son.

    [The attorney] knew our son would be in trouble with drinking alcohol, the reasons he went to prison.

    [The paralegal] supplied our son with alcohol as well as herself! When she was at our home with our son & she was drunk, she would hit our son in the face & upper body! She told him where his dad & I could hear, if you tell me you leave me, I’ll lie and say you hit hit me so you will have to go back to prison!

    The weird thing is, she had asked me ” oh ____, you must have been so sad when he was in prison, what would you do if he went back”?

    Why would some idiotic person say that??????!!!?!

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