There are many circumstances where lawyers and clients maintain friendships without issue. For example, the family lawyer who after 20+ years of service is considered more of a friend than a hired professional. But the dynamic changes when the client is a company and the lawyer is with an outside law firm hired to represent the company’s interest. In this situation, where the in-house lawyer assumes the role of “the client,” the friendships that often form between the outside lawyers and their in-house clients can be difficult to navigate and, if not kept in check, adverse to the company’s interests.
It is not uncommon for friendships to exist in this context. Many attorneys develop friendships early on in their careers and only later find themselves in an “attorney-client” scenario with these same friends. As a former Brooklyn prosecutor, I have many former colleagues who now serve as in-house counsel to the various financial institutions my firm represents. These lawyers––with whom I bonded in my first years out of law school––are now my clients. These preexisting friendships between firm lawyers and their corporate clients are actually quite common in my field because many former prosecutors ultimately make the transition to securities litigation. In addition, given that these attorneys are usually in constant communication regarding their client’s legal matters, it is not unusual for new friendships to develop between outside attorneys and in-house counsel through the course of legal representation. When you combine this frequent professional interaction with the occasional dinners, sporting events, and other outings filed under the heading of “client entertainment,” close relationships often form—or, in the case of the preexisting relationships, continue to develop.