February 8, 2010
Friends Like These
The danger in representing a friend without following the normal formalities of an attorney-client relationship is apparent in a recent recommendation for discipline by an Arizona Hearing Officer. The attorney was admitted to practice in November 2006. She advertised for a roommate and became close friends with the woman who answered the ad and moved in. The roommate left to marry and moved back in when the marriage encountered difficulty. The attorney agreed to handle the divorce on a pro bono basis. The attorney and client also entered a lease agreement for the client to run a horse riding school on the property purchased by the attorney and the attorney's father. The attorney sought an award of attorney's fees in the divorce matter without disclosing that she was charging the client no fees.
The hearing officer accepted a stipulation finding that the attorney had not provided a writing that set forth the scope of the representation and that the business transaction with the client failed to comply with formal requirements. The hearing officer expressed concern about the possible misleading statements to the tribunal about the fees but found the agreed sanction appropriate.
The hearing officer noted the attorney's remorse and attributed the violations to a "more-than-casual" attitude towards the representation of a close friend. The proposed sanction is a censure and one year of probation with conditions. (Mike Frisch)
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