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Is dating a client legal malpractice?

On Behalf of | Aug 21, 2023 | Legal Malpractice

In the age of dating apps, people still sometimes meet romantic partners in the real world. You might have first met your spouse or partner at a party or some other random encounter. Or perhaps a mutual friend introduced you. You never know how you and your life partner will first get to know each other.

But in some situations, asking out somebody you just met can be tricky and have serious consequences. One example is when an attorney works with a client and sparks fly. While it could be tempting, dating your lawyer can have ethical implications and affect their ability to represent you effectively. It could even lead to legal malpractice mistakes that sabotage your case. The conflict between the client’s best interests and the attorney’s personal feelings for them can be too much to overcome.

ABA bans new romance between attorneys and clients

This is why the American Bar Association’s Model Rules prohibit attorneys from having a sexual relationship with a client. The only exception is when “a consensual sexual relationship existed between them when the client-attorney relationship commenced.” In other words, an attorney can represent their spouse or sexual partner but can’t start a sexual relationship with a current client in states with bars that follow the ABA Model Rules. However, it is permitted to date a former client.

Some states, like California, have different rules about attorney-client relationships. Sexual relationships are allowed unless they “cause the member [attorney] to perform legal services incompetently.”

Did your ex mess up your legal proceedings?

Generally speaking, if your attorney comes onto you or asks you on a date, it is probably better for your legal issues to refuse or at least wait until those issues are resolved or in the hands of a new lawyer. But if your attorney convinced you that a sexual relationship was ethical and would not affect your attorney-client relationship, only to bungle your legal matters, you might have a strong claim for legal malpractice.