Case Date:October 30, 1992
Alaska Ethics Opinion 1992. 92-6. Ethics Opinion No. 92-6 Propriety of an Intimate Relationship Between an Attorney and a Client of the Attorney's Law Firm.The Committee has been asked previously whether it is in violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility for an attorney to commence a sexual relationship with a client during the time the attorney is representing that client. In Ethics Opinion 88-1, the Committee responded by setting forth criteria that would render such a relationship unethical. More recently, we have been asked to assess whether Ethics Opinion 88-1 applies to a sexual relationship commenced between an attorney and a client of the attorney's law firm. Specifically, we have been asked to determine whether it was unethical for a lawyer to become intimately involved with a client of the firm during the course of the firm's representation in a termination of parental rights proceeding. Committee has concluded that this conduct is unethical if: (endnote 1) (1) The sexual relationship has an adverse affect on the lawyer's ability to protect the client's interests, or is otherwise prejudicial or damaging to the client's case; (2) The sexual relationship creates the potential that the attorney will be called as a witness on behalf of the client or to testify on issues prejudicial to the client; (3) The client is involved in a legal matter of the type that is generally recognized to be emotionally charged; or (4) The sexual conduct is exchanged for legal services, non-consensual, coercive, or illegal. These factors recognize that there are some circumstances and types of representation under which a sexual relationship is inconsistent with a professional relationship between an attorney and client. The Committee's basic concern is that the attorney-client relationship, once established, should not be exploited by the attorney. The attorneys' foremost duty must be loyalty to the client, not personal gratification. It is the opinion of the Committee that a sexual relationship between an attorney and a client of the attorney's firm is improper to the same extent as a relationship between an attorney and the attorney's own client, with certain limited exceptions. First, an attorney not directly involved in representing the client must know or have reason to know of the attorney-client relationship existing between the client and the attorney's firm. Second, such attorney may rebut with objective evidence the presumption established in criterion (3), which assumes that an attorney who is sexually involved with a client during cases that are by nature emotionally charged is unethically exploiting the attorney-client relationship. In the case presented, the Committee has not been provided with sufficient facts to determine whether the attorney's sexual relationship with the firm's client was proper. However, the fact that the client was involved in a proceeding to terminate parental...

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