Should Your Firm Implement A Policy Limiting Attorney-Client And Inter-Office Romance?

To some, attorney-client romantic relationships are unquestionably unethical. However, at least one Norwich-born attorney believes lawyers who are romantically involved with their client actually fight harder in court, reports The Bulletin, and attempts to legally restrict such relationships are far more dangerous to people and the profession than ones allowing them.

Bankruptcy lawyer Zenas Zelotes believes rules limiting personal relationships between attorneys and their clients are “counterproductive and unconstitutional,” according to The Bulletin. Zelotes recently file a 75-page brief with the Connecticut Statewide Grievance Committee to appeal a decision by a disciplinary panel in a report that he claims is “replete with errors.”

The panel, led by Old Saybrook lawyer Howard Gould recommended Zelotes be presented to the Superior Court for disciplinary action, reports The Bulletin.

Zelotes gave advice to women going through divorces and other legal matters to start a romantic relationship with an effective lawyer. The panel responded to this advice, “Needless to say, this reviewing committee disagrees with such advice,” writes The Bulletin.

“’This is aggressive judicial paternalism versus freedom of association,’ said Zelotes, who says he moved to Pennsylvania ‘for love’ and has been representing his fiancée for the past five years. ‘There are fundamental constitutional ramifications here. This is the type of fight I live for,’” reports The Bulletin.

It begs the question, where should the ethical line be drawn between love and law? 

Certainly romance in the office or between two professionals is not a new phenomenon.

Within the same firm, lawyers fall victim everyday to office romances during lengthy trials, after long work hours, or post-party mixers.

The tough question lawyers really ought to ask are, are these relationships of convenience or ones of true love, and should your firm create a policy limiting them?

To the former, the answer will be varied and personal. To the latter, absolutely. Because legal matters can by metaphorically and literally trying, it’s important for firms to write down its expectations for associates. What are the rules on relationships, and how will they be enforced?

At the same time, it’s a good idea to poll your firm employees in advance of implementing such a policy. Sometimes the general consensus should be the deciding one. If the entirety of your firm has no issue with inter-office romances or even lawyer-client ones, your policy can reflect this freedom of choice and respect for privacy in the workplace.

However, if an overwhelming number of employees are concerned over the implications of such romances—preferential treatment, for example, by the parties involved—than it may be time to place restrictions on them.

Keep in mind, when it comes to love, people generally do what they will. So, the best policy is one of fairness and confidentiality.   Do be clear about firm policy and don’t rely on norms to rule the office.

Although it may be a difficult conversation, the success, productivity, and happiness of employees depend greatly on your firm’s ability to address uncomfortable questions.

Firms, it’s time to ask. Lawyers, it’s time to tell.

-WB

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