Attorney's: Can you legally represent a close friend of yours?

I do not know the ins and outs of choosing an attorney, and I am lucky enough to not have to do that, or be forced to do that {knocks on wood) - but I do happen to have a lot of attorneys as friends. So, is there any legal issue with hiring a friend to be your attorney if they are in fact an attorney? What if they live in another state? Can they practice anywhere in the US?

Attorneys represent their friends all the time. It is helpful to be friends with one’s clients. It only gets sticky when for instance the attorney is friends with a married couple who are seeking a divorce. The attorney can represent one or the other spouse, but not both. The attorney should not represent someone outside of his expertise either, even for a friend. If I’m a tax lawyer and my buddy is up on a murder rap I ought not represent him.

No legal reason not to, assuming they’re qualified to practice in the appropriate jurisdiction. Typically lawyers are only licensed (it’s called ‘admitted to the bar’ for lawyers, but licensing is the general idea) in one state, or sometimes two. I’m not sure, but I believe for most federal issues, they can be licensed in any state. And of course, they should really know the area of concern: a tax lawyer is very different from a criminal defense lawyer, etc.

However, in many situations – like in any business, not just legal work – you might not want to hire a friend because it can get in the way of the business relationship or vice versa. That really depends on the particular situation and friendship though.

In general, there’s no ethical problem with representing a friend - at least, none that I’m aware of. (I’m a lawyer, but not your lawyer, probably not licensed in your jurisdiction, and my only client is the federal government.) With some exceptions, though, I can only practice in the state where I’m licensed. (The exceptions are usually areas of federal practice - I could practice immigration law in any state, for example, without sitting for another bar exam).

I would say, though, that I’d be very reluctant to represent a friend - I prefer being able to maintain an emotional distance from my clients.


I’d worry that my representation would damage the friendship, or vice versa.

I’m beginning to think that absolutely nothing I learned about the practice of law from years of watching Perry Mason have been of any use whatsoever in the real world.

Good thing I’ve got my medical training to fall back on.

Perry Mason … he never even had to go to trial. He always got the “real” culprits to confess during preliminary proceedings.

An attorney can practice in another state for a one time issue. He must ask permission of the court and have local counsel sponsor him. It’s call pro hac vice.

You can represent yourself, let alone a friend. There’s no ethical problem.

*Anybody *can represent themselves. Only lawyers can represent others.

Related tangent: Is a prosecutor allowed to take a case if the defendant is a friend? As a citizen, I’d worry that he might not prosecute strongly enough.

Judges, prosecutors and other officials are subject to conflict-of-interest standards. Indeed, even a defense lawyer is subject to such standards. Would you like to be a defendant represented by a lawyer who has ties to the prosecution?

So I take it COI doesn’t apply if you are defending your friend since both of your relationships have an interest in defense. But what about an enemy? I assume a public defender might run into that problem.

I wouldn’t represent most of my friends because I know how they manage their money, and I don’t want to get in a fight over lawyer’s fees. But, as stated earlier, there’s nothing that precludes me from representing a friend. There’s a lot of stuff that prevents me from representing certain clients (such as conflict of interest, mentioned earlier), but those are independent of friendship.

What if the prosecutor or defense attorney is close friends with a judge? Is that a conflict of interest?

I don’t want to be speaking for every jurisdiction’s standards, but speaking generally and theoretically, by itself, between lawyers and judges is unlikely to be considered a conflict of interest. You’d have a hard time finding representation in too many cases and lawyers would gave to avoid making friends with anyone in the profession or rose risk never being able to represent anyone. It would be an unworkable standard.

I imagine you must be thinking of trial situations. There are a lot of other uses for lawyers.

My brother is a lawyer, and I was once having a dispute with a used car salesman from whom I had purchased a car, and I got my brother to write a sternly worded letter on his law firm stationary, accusing the guy of fraud and threatening to sue. He came around pretty quickly (although the fact that I also disputed the charges with my credit card company seemed to also have a lot to do with it).