I went to the movies with my wife this weekend and we watched "The Judge" with Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Duvall. Without giving too much away for those of you who have yet to see the movie, Downey Jr. ends up representing his hometown judge, Robert Duvall, in a murder case. However, with one big caveat—the judge/murder suspect is Downey Jr.'s father. Which begs the question, is it a good idea to represent your family in legal matters?
Is it a good idea?
The answer to the question is a big "maybe." We have laws that actually allow attorneys to help his or her family when they are in need. We have a general ethics law that bars attorneys from soliciting his or her legal services to potential clients. However, when that potential client is a family member, the rule does not apply. There are really no laws out there that prohibit representing family members.
Nevertheless, it is generally not a good idea to represent your family in legal matters. However, there are a few minor exceptions to the rule. If someone in your family gets a traffic violation, OVI, or the like, you could go ahead and represent them without many problems. However, when it comes to a larger case—such as a large civil trial, a bigger probate issue, or like in our movie above, a murder trial—the stakes are higher, and emotions tend to rise as well. For instance, let's say there you do in fact represent someone in your family on a murder case or a large civil case. You know everything about them—you're family. Plus, you'll probably do it at a discount or for free (pro bono). What is the big deal? I want to help my family!
What are the ramifications?
We know that the quantity of the positives outweigh the negatives, however what about the quality of the negatives? This is the game changer. Let's stick with the murder hypothetical above, where you're representing your family in a murder trial. If you win, you'll be the "Atticus Finch" of your family—going to law school, passing that bar, becoming an awesome big shot defense attorney—taking care of "family" business! Sounds awesome right? However, what if you lose?
If your family is like my family, things do not get let down lightly—everything is always played out to the last drop. My point is—if you lose, good luck explaining that you did all you could as an attorney to your family. The whole time while you are explaining yourself, they will be thinking how bad of an attorney you really are—maybe that "B+" in criminal law wasn't so good after all. Plus, emotions (good and bad) with family members tend to be much higher, and come with much more stress. It's simple to tell a former client that you have never met before the representation—we did our best, however the other side had the better argument and jury or judge sided with them. If you lost the big one in your family, do you see every family member being 100% objective, and not let family ties come into the equation? By analogy, could you expect 12 jurors to be "100% objective" when a child rapist and killer is on trial? I'll give you a hint—it's not the easiest thing to do.
With all of this being said, it is probably not the best idea to represent your family in bigger legal cases. Nonetheless, that does not mean that you have to remain away from the person with a 10-foot pole if they ask for your legal help or advice. The attorney in your family is an ocean of information waiting to be tapped into. The attorney could offer other forms of advice—good attorneys to represent you, discounted price if you know the other attorney, where many resources could lie, what court documents mean, etc. There are many of other things to remain helpful, however not actually representing a family member. You'll just have to draw the line somewhere.
Contact The Meranda Law Firm, LTD. for all your criminal defense needs, where we will work in the most amicable way to resolve your case. Give us a call today.