Is It Legal Malpractice If Your Lawyer Socializes With The Defendant's Attorney?

Posted on: 24 May 2016

Even though they may be standing on opposite sides of the courtroom battling with each other on behalf of their clients, it's not unusual for attorneys to socialize outside the courtroom. Some have even been good friends or married to each other for years. One of the immediate concerns many plaintiffs have when they find out their attorneys fraternize with the "enemy" is whether or not the relationship will compromise their cases and what, if anything, they can do about it. Here's some advice on how to handle this situation.

It's Not an Ethics Violation for Opposing Attorneys to Socialize

Although it may seem like a conflict of interest for opposing attorneys to hang around outside of the courtroom, there's nothing legally or ethically wrong with it. These attorneys typically work with each other day in and day out, so it's natural they would form relationships over time.

This can actually benefit you because your attorney will usually have a good understanding of the opposing counsel's personality and the best way to approach him or her when negotiating a settlement. Your attorney's relationship with other lawyers not involved in the case can help too because he or she can tap them for advice if a solution to a particular legal problem eludes him or her.

Having said that, though, there are times when an attorney's relationship with an opposing lawyer may be a problem. The biggest issue is ensuring there is no breach of the attorney-client privilege. Your and the defendant's attorney can talk about the case during their social interactions—which could lead to a satisfactory outcome for you—as long as no privileged information is shared or the opposing attorney doesn't gain access to confidential materials as a result.

However, it would represent a legal violation if your attorney does let something slip to the defendant's lawyer that shouldn't have been shared or the opposing attorney gains access to privileged information that hurts your case. At that point, you would have grounds to take action against the attorney for the damage caused by the indiscretion.

What to Do If Your Attorney Is Friends with the Defense Lawyer

The majority of attorneys are very skilled at keeping their personal and professional lives separate, so you generally don't have anything to worry about if your attorney and the defendant's lawyer have a social relationship of some type. If you are concerned about it, though, it's best to discuss the issue with your lawyer to resolve any misgivings you may have about the situation. Clearly state your objections and what, if anything, the attorney can do to alleviate your fears. Most of the time, you and your attorney will be able to work this issue out to your mutual satisfaction.

The other option is to transfer your case to another attorney. As the client, you have the right to terminate your relationship with the lawyer at any time and pretty much for any reason. However, changing attorneys can hurt your case, especially if the person hasn't done anything wrong to warrant being dismissed. In addition to causing you to spend precious time and money searching for a new attorney, changing lawyers may delay resolution of your case because the new lawyer will have to spend time getting up to speed before he or she can adequately represent you in court.

Additionally, you typically have to file a motion for substitution of counsel, or your attorney may need to file a motion to withdraw from the case, if your lawsuit has already been filed with the court. Unfortunately, the court may deny the motion if a hearing or trial has already been scheduled. Judges generally don't like to postpone legal proceedings because of the inconvenience to the court and defendant unless it's absolutely necessary and may deny the motion if granting it would result in the need to reschedule the court appointment and the reason for doing so isn't adequate.

Therefore, it's critical that you think long and hard about whether it's really in your best interests to replace your current attorney with someone new.

For more information about this and other issues with your case, contact an experienced attorney from a firm like Burke Schultz Harman & Jenkinson Attorneys at Law