It was July 1998, it was a hot Sunday afternoon with a strong possibility of a late afternoon thunderstorm and I was helping to move a piano. Why was I helping to move a piano? Well let me explain. I was representing a good friend and at that time, regular weight training partner, in his divorce case. Part of the divorce ruling was that he deliver the marital petite grand piano, which is slightly smaller than a baby grand, and he had to have it delivered by the end of the day on that particular Sunday. So like most guys, he rounded up a crew (me included), rented truck and we commenced to move the piano along with a few other items. What I did not bargain for was his former wife verbally abusing me for most of the afternoon because ethically, I could not discuss the case with her and frankly, I take that as I don’t even talk about the weather with the other party unless their lawyer is right there. Most assuredly, my opposing counsel was not supervising the piano moving on that hot afternoon. The afternoon concluded with our little moving crew realizing the piano was not going to fit through the doorway of the Former Wife’s apartment. So we left it there. What followed was both a Motion for Contempt by the Former Wife’s attorney and a Bar Grievance against me filed by the Former Wife. Luckily my client filmed the whole episode so I had evidence of what truly happened. I did have to testify at the Contempt hearing which came out well for my client. I sent the video along with my response to the Bar and they found no probable cause (i.e. I did nothing wrong) but did send a cautionary letter about inserting myself into controversies. At the time I was put off by the letter but over the years I have realized it was wise advice.
I always say I like entering the courthouse by my door, the lawyer door so to speak. That means I never want to go to the courthouse as a witness or a party. This is pretty easy when you are representing someone you don’t have a prior relationship with. It gets a little dicey when you are representing friends. I could tell you not to but we do it or have done it. Things that friends may tell you over a beer suddenly may be privileged or have legal significance. if the case is about child custody, you should probably limit your contact with you friend’s children. The other trap you can fall into is the money. You may think you are giving your friend a deal but they may not think so. You need to be real clear about what is charged for and what is not. You also need to keep your billing really really up to date when representing a friend. Nothing is worse than feeling like your “friend” doesn’t appreciate you when they owe you a balance but haven’t received an invoice for a while. Also, make it clear that you do not discuss the case every time you hang out. It may be their life but it’s your job and your job stops when you are around the family or socializing.
Relatives and acquaintances, just don’t. Actually be careful of the acquaintance who wants to send you business because you’ll give them a “deal”. Also, be real careful that you are not a resource for your crazy uncle that always wants to sue a neighbor. Lastly, don’t ever move a piano as part of a court case, it’s not a good look.