Should lawyers be able to have sex with clients?

Relationships between professionals and clients are usually trusted to maintain ethical boundaries.

Some professions, such as psychology and mental health, are especially strict on upholding certain rules of conduct given the likely vulnerability of a client.

Other professions allow individuals to decide on where the line is drawn in client relationships, trusting a code of ethics will be followed.

In California, lawyers can have consensual sex with their clients without facing discipline as long as they aren't demanding sex from a client as a condition of any professional representation or using 'coercion, intimidation or undue influence' to have sex with a client.

The state bar also bans lawyers from engaging in sexual relations with a client if the relationship is affecting the legal work.

But a new proposed law could ban all sex between lawyers and clients unless a consensual sexual relationship existed prior to legal services. 

The state bar is currently making proposed amendments to the California Rules of Professional Conduct, which were last fully revised in 1987. There are 68 proposed amended and new rules that are expected to be reviewed and adopted by the State Bar by March 31, 2017, according to the California Bar Journal. 

The rules will then be sent to the California Supreme Court for approval.

Larry Doyle, a lobbyist and lawyer based out of Sacramento, was Chief Legislative Counsel for the State Bar when he said the California Bar presented sex restrictions for lawyers in 1992.

"The rest of the country thought California was strange when the Rules of Professional Conduct proposed to restrict lawyers from having sex with clients," Doyle said.

He explained many people thought the move stemmed from a popular television show at the time, L.A. Law, where sex between lawyers and clients was frequent.

"I just think it's interesting," Doyle said.

The state bar is proposing the new changes to the current rules to meet the American Bar Association (ABA) standards, which already bans lawyers from having sex with clients altogether, according to Doyle.

Most jurisdictions already follow the ABA model.

"California went from being the leader, to now we're the laggers," Doyle said.

Supporters of the sex ban argue any sexual relationship an attorney has with a client is coercive because of the lawyer's upper hand position.

Doyle said, it's hard to prove coercion with a client and the issue sparked complaints. Enforcing a complete sex ban would be a way to avoid this problem.

"It would be much easier to only have to say sex happened," Doyle said. "But easier is not always better."

Critics of the new rule say a sex ban would be an invasion of privacy.

"I'm pretty much in that camp," Doyle said. "I think there's a First Amendment association this tramples."

Doyle said the original draft of the rule amendments didn't include allowing sex with spouses or partners. After much backlash, the Commission for the revision of the Rules of Professional Conduct changed the rule amendments to include spouses as acceptable sexual partners.

However, in most cases spouses fall under the exception for sexual relations that predate a lawyer and client relationship.

If a lawyer is caught violating rules, there could be punishment to face.

"It's an ethical violation," Doyle said. "They could suspend you, disbar you- which I think is fairly extreme."

According to the Associated Press, at an October commission meeting, attorney and commission member Daniel Eaton said the current rules involving sex aren't working and there's a lack of disciplinary action against attorneys.

State bar data found, between September 1992 and January 2010, the state bar investigated 205 complaints of misconduct under the current sex restrictions, according to the AP.

Even though many states have already adopted the ABA standard and the proposed rule amendments are constitutional, there's a fine line under discussion.

"There's lots of people who think the government shouldn't be getting involved," Doyle said.

As for the chances of the rule amendments being approved?

"The commission made this recommendation and they're fighting for it," Doyle said.

Copyright 2016 KXTV


JOIN THE CONVERSATION

To find out more about Facebook commenting please read the
Conversation Guidelines and FAQs

Leave a Comment