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Acting for Family and Friends

Family and friends can serve as an immediate source of work for you as a practitioner. They may find you more approachable because they know you. What’s more, your knowledge of them and their activities may be of great assistance to you in tending to their needs effectively and efficiently.

At the same time, our claims experience tells us that acting for family and friends presents certain hazards like unrealistic expectations, unclear instructions, unpaid services and conflicts of interest.

Beware this Danger Zone and do yourself and your family members or friends a favour:

Treat the individual as you would any other client by maintaining your usual practice procedures and standards.

And here are ten tips on how to do just that:

  1. Identify whether the matter is within your area of expertise. Avoid the dangers of dabbling.
  1. Clarify who your client is at the outset, confirm you do not have any conflict of interest and then open a file in their name with an agreed upon line of communication.
  1. Clarify what role you will play and what work you will do. Remember that even though a client doesn’t specifically ask you to do certain tasks or doesn’t want to pay you to do them, you nonetheless have a responsibility to take all necessary steps to safeguard your client’s interests.
  1. Ensure expectations of the timeframe and the anticipated results are realistic from the outset so as to avoid miscommunication and frustration.
  1. Remain objective. Becoming too involved in the matter will make it difficult, if not impossible, for you to discharge your obligations with the necessary detachment.
  1. Maintain authority and obtain proper instructions. Avoid the pressures or confusion imposed by another well-intended relative or interested party. You are the advisor now, not the kid brother or the doting neice.
  1. Avoid future conflict of interests. Keep a record of your work so that you can readily ascertain whether your involvement in the instant case affects your ability to give independent legal advice now or in the future to this or other clients.
  1. Keep a written record of your work. Problems can arise in any matter you work on. A clear record should guard against failed memories or unforeseen confusing events.
  1. Communicate your progress and results. Relatives and friends will always expect good service from you. Keeping in touch on a regular basis but at your instance should avoid unnecessary drains on your time.
  1. Decline the representation if you cannot commit to this strategy. Otherwise, you could be in for a major headache, lasting damage to a family relationship, or even a claim.


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