Always a fun topic, especially given that it is a key element of my novel-in-progress, Client Relations.
My friends at DivorceSaloon.com have posted an article about the recent disbarment of a New Jersey lawyer who had sex with his divorce client. http://www.divorcesaloon.com/2011/01/13/new-jersey-lawyer-kenneth-m-denti-to-be-disbarred-for-sleeping-with-his-divorce-client/
What really frosted the NJ Disclipinary Board was the offending lawyer's enormous billing fraud stretching across years and law firms and, get this, that he was having sex with a client while she was considering reconciling with her husband. In other words, if she were in the midst of a brutal divorce war, where reconciliation was not even remotely on the horizon, it would have been perfectly okay for her lawyer to screw around with her. Assuming he wasn't billing her for his time spent when they were frolicking in bed, that is. Cripes, I knew I should have waived into the New Jersey bar - I had no idea it was so much fun over there, just across the state line.
The Academy (American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers) has an extremely thorough code of conduct for matrimonial lawyers (Bounds of Advocacy Section 3.4 http://www.aaml.org/library/publications/19/bounds-advocacy). This kind of crap is flat-out barred by the Academy: "A more intimate relationship may endanger both the client's welfare and the lawyer's objectivity."
So. What's really interesting to me about all these rules, ethical opinions, cases, stuff like that, is:
1. Generally, non-divorce lawyers can go at it with their clients as long as their professional judgment is unimpaired. Okay, that's crystal clear.
2. I haven't seen any specific cases or opinions where the lusty lawyer is a woman. Not even in journal articles that lead off with the lame, supposedly provocative, photos. Nope. It's always the male lawyer with the wingtips, and the quivering female client worshiping his diplomas on the wall. Excuse me? Women lawyers are fully capable of dominating male clients (and opponents), thank you very much. Power trips aren't gender-neutral.
3. Nothing prohibits good old-fashioned romance, without actual sex acts, between lawyers and clients. You know. When people don't expose their private parts for manipulation, like back in pre-pre-pre-Monica Lewinsky days. Kissing, hugging, touching non-genital areas - I guess that's all fair game for those who are so inclined.
If the lawyer and client 'laugh just a little too loud, stand just a little too close, stare just a little too long' (a la Something to Talk About), well, that's fine and dandy. No conflicts of interest, no impairment of judgment. Just a little distraction (hmmmm, maybe enough distraction to push a case through too quickly in order to make the client available for an all-out sexual affair). Put that together with a female tax lawyer representing a sexy real estate tycoon (wait a minute - isn't that an oxymoron?), and voila! Absolutely no Draconian fear of disbarment hanging about in the foreground.
Note: Since 1981, no client has ever been that appealing to me. No adversary or judge, either. And I know of no female attorney who has gotten herself in hot water for sleeping with her client. But I do know a few men - and not particularly attractive ones - who have. Hence all these rules - Thanks, guys, for making the rest of us look as bad as you are.