Yes, in this case, the lawyer was a woman, and the client was a man--but our research indicates the roles usually are reversed. Either way, such relationships apparently happen in the law with alarming frequency, and they often lead to poor outcomes for clients and career derailment for lawyers.
The Web site Above the Law (ATL) broke the story of an attorney-client relationship gone awry in the Midwest. Allison Bergman had spent roughly 15 years at Lathrop Gage, a Kansas City, Missouri, firm with some 320 lawyers. For about 10 years during that time, she had a personal relationship with the president of a company her firm had represented for more than 100 years.
Kansas City Terminal Railway (KCT) started an internal investigation in 2012, firing Bergman and president Chuck Mader at the same time. KCT also terminated its relationship with Lathrop Gage, costing the firm about $400,000 a year. Bergman left the law firm shortly thereafter, and a disciplinary complaint followed.
These sorts of issues seem to erupt at law firms, big and small, all over the country. Here is how a 2012 article at Huffington Post put it:
Reliable numbers are hard to come by, but according to one nationwide survey of attorneys, 7% admitted to personally having a sexual relationship with one or more clients, and 32% admitted to having colleagues who carry on such affairs. It's so common today that there are actually law review articles with titles like "The Legal Profession's Dirty Little Secret"!
The "dirty little secret" definitely extends to Alabama. I am aware of a male lawyer in Shelby County who had an extramarital affair with his Chilton County client in a divorce case. The client had been married to a prominent Central Alabama businessman, and court records indicate she was the victim of infidelity, domestic violence, and other forms of marital misconduct.
In a high-dollar divorce action with the facts on her side, she should have come out of the mess in solid financial shape. Instead, she lost most everything she owned, and the "justice system" treated her in a hideously unconstitutional fashion.
Was the woman targeted for abuse because the legal tribe feared she might reveal damaging information about one of its members?
If that was the case, the tribe was too late because she already has revealed the information to me--in writing.
How can one married lawyer--with a long, documented history of unethical conduct--take advantage of a female client who is on a financial, personal and emotional precipice? What can be the frightening fallout for the client, the one with whom the lawyer is supposed to have a "fiduciary relationship" of supreme trust?
We will examine those questions in a series of upcoming posts.