The Truth About Sharing A Lawyer

There are two reasons (at least) why it's a terrible idea to share an attorney with someone on the "other side," even if that person is a friend.

First, the whole point is to have someone looking out for your best interests, and a joint attorney wouldn't be able to do that. Second, in Illinois, attorneys are often ethically prohibited from representing both parties, even when it's amicable. It's a clear conflict of interest. So if they're willing to do it anyway, they may not be the type of lawyer you want to hire.

A common example is divorce. In Illinois, an attorney cannot represent both spouses. However, the distinction isn't always clear to the client. If you are under the impression that you are sharing an attorney, it's more likely that you're actually unrepresented and your spouse's attorney is preparing the documents and communicating with you as the opposing side and not as your attorney. There's no rule that says both you and your spouse must have attorneys, but you can't share one. And I don't recommend going unrepresented and having your spouse's attorney steer the ship. Saving money now can cost a lot in the long run. I've seen it end badly too many times.

Another example is a real estate transaction. Even if things are fairly straightforward, it's a risk for both sides to share an attorney. You have to think ahead to what happens if a problem comes up. How can you be sure there aren't any liens on the property? Who was in charge of doing the title search and whose side are they on? If you have a joint attorney, they can't possibly be 100% behind you.

So aside from the ethical issues, it's a terrible idea for the client. It basically defeats the purpose of having an attorney in the first place. Most attorneys I know wouldn't go there, and they would do their best to make it absolutely clear to the other side that they were not representing them. But I'd be lying if I said it never happens.  And to paraphrase an old saying, if you are looking around the table and aren't sure who the lawyer is representing, it's probably not you.

ON ANOTHER NOTE, if you are looking for a worthy cause to support, please consider donating to the Ovarian Cancer Research Foundation via three women who are completing a Chicago area triathalon to honor Sheryl Lapka, a Chicago attorney who died from ovarian cancer last fall.  Go to http://www.razoo.com/story/Ovarian-Cancer-Research-1?1305325057
if you are interested in that.

 

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