Lawyers' 'dirty little secret'
By Peter Worthington
Tue, August 17, 2004
It's not that Canadian lawyers want sex with clients --they just don't want sex prohibited with clients.
At the Canadian Bar Association's (CBA) annual meeting in Winnipeg, the 38,000-member organization voted overwhelmingly not to ban sex with clients.
Only they didn't call it "sex" but preferred the word "love."
In this, the CBA differs from its colleagues in the U.S., where the American Bar Association (ABA) has voted to continue a ban on lawyer-client sexual relations - even though the ban is ignored an unknown number of times.
Philadelphia lawyer Lawrence Fox puts it succinctly:
"I'm for sex -- but against sex with clients."
Montreal lawyer Chantale Masse put it differently: "Who are we to impose a prohibition on love?"
We're not talking about love, but about "sex," which may or may not involve love -- at least for a few minutes. Most of us know the difference.
An extensive debate on sex at the University of Virginia's law school a couple of years ago came down hard on lawyers having sex with clients, as well as lawyers having sex inside the office, though this latter is admittedly harder to control.
Prof. Stephen Smith noted the Hippocratic oath forbids doctors from having sex with patients, and feels the same should apply to lawyers.
Lawyers who oppose the ban argue there's a difference between a medical relationship with a patient and a professional relationship with a client. Yeah, lawyers bill by the hour.
Some see the doctor's Hippocratic oath matched by what could be called a lawyer's Hypocritic pledge.
To Prof. Smith, lawyers should choose whether to represent the client or have sex with the client: "You don't get to screw the client twice. If you want to sleep with them, don't represent them."
He adds: "How do you separate pillow talk ... from lawyer-client discussions?"
The Canadian Bar Association doesn't see the client this way. Lawyer David Paul of Kamloops B.C. paraphrases the late Pierre Trudeau's 1967 theme as Justice Minister that the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation: "the Canadian Bar Association and law societies ... have no place in the bedrooms of lawyers."
This implies that it's okay for lawyers to have monkey business in the bedrooms of their clients, without jeopardizing their personal lives or how they represent their sex partner clients.
The Americans (and British) are more prudish when it comes to sex. Admittedly there's a lot of hanky-panky in big law firms. There's a high ratio of sexual relations among men and women who work for law firms, where men have most of the power.
One sees this all the time in novels and TV shows like L.A. Law.
One has difficulty not believing U.S. lawyers are right. A lawyer's sexual relationship with a client who may be fearful of why she needs a lawyer, and that the lawyer's representation may change her life forever, means a female client is both susceptible and vulnerable.
In California, sex with a client can entail a $10,000 fine and three years in jail. Some 20 U.S. states specifically forbid such relationships.
That said, "sex" and "love" are distinct, albeit blurred relationships. Marriage to a client tends to absolve a lawyer of impropriety.
Ethical considerations of sex with a client seem clear -- as they are in employer-employee relations.
Prof. Smith notes that sex with clients is "our business' dirty little secret ... clients tend to be vulnerable to lecherous lawyers."
Thank goodness, the 38,000 members of the CBA are all virtuous and ethical, and that lechery rarely intrudes on their professionalism -- even though the Hypocritic oath flourishes in Canada.