Can a lawyer’s client be a friend, too?

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By Richard Sheffield, Partner, Fillmore Spencer LLC

Several years ago, I was attending a seminar for lawyers when the lecturer asserted that we should not be friends with our clients. I thought differently, and when comments were invited, I wondered about expressing my view.

   Ultimately, I did, but the numerous other lawyers in the room seemed to agree with the speaker.

   My viewpoint came from an early mentor, a highly-respected Arizona lawyer, who had often said he only wanted to work for friends. While I don’t think every client must be a good friend, I had adopted his mentoring that friendship can enrich the attorney-client relationship and the service given.

Arguments Against the Lawyer as Friend

   As lawyers, we’re taught that reasoning and the law are supreme. Some argue that if we’re swayed by the emotion and pull of friendship, we may lose well-founded judgment and give unsound advice.

   They also argue that the demands of loyalty to a friend might justify stretching the law or morality. We might be inclined to put the friend’s interests above the law or greater good. Therefore, we should keep a professional distance so as not to be blinded from the truth or good.

The Best Kind of Friendship

   While I don’t disagree with the premises behind this thinking, I have a different view about the kind of friendship that enhances a professional relationship.

A real friend:

Cares, applies emotion and passion to more focused, wise and diligent service.

Gives advice that may be hard to receive.

Weighs greater good, together with economic and other interests.

Looks beyond present interests to the future.

Advises not only as to what can be done under the law, but what should be done.

   My most rewarding days are when I can help a friend resolve a problem, realize a dream, start or build a worthwhile business, or get a good deal done.

   As I was leaving our office a week ago, I stopped to talk with two associates, but did not notice another person in the back of the room. One of my associates introduced the person as a client of our firm.

   The client then added, “Actually, I consider myself a friend.”

   The client’s statement pleased me.

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