In this area of the site, you can find answers to non-legal questions about the human side of lawyering. Answers are written by licensed clinicians with the purpose of providing information, and are not a substitute for a clinical evaluation.
We do not post responses to questions that seem to be frivolous or unrelated to our mission, or that don’t seem to be from Massachusetts lawyers, law students, judges (or family members). We have no way to check back with you, because of the mechanism that keeps this anonymous.
or click any of the topics in the above list to access a wealth of information accumulated in years of archived Q&A columns.
CURRENT QUESTION(S) OF THE WEEK
A SUICIDAL CLIENT
We have a client who revealed he is considering committing suicide due to a possible federal grand jury indictment. (1) are we violating the attorney-client privilege if we inform his wife or another party we believe can intervene to help? (2) do we have any liability vis a vis our knowledge of what he has confided in us if he in fact carries out what he intends?
Please keep in mind that we are here primarily to answer questions related to mental health, behavior, human practice issues, etc. We clearly cannot advise you on liability issues (such as the consequences of failing to act), and for that we suggest you contact your general liability and malpractice insurers.
With regard to the question of whether to act, the best information sources would be the Mass Board of Bar Overseers’ Ethics Hotline, at 617-728-8750 (2 to 4 pm, M/W/F). We also refer you to MBA Ethics Opinion 01-2, the summary of which states:
A lawyer may notify family members, adult protective agencies, the police, or the client’s doctors to prevent the threatened suicide of a client if the lawyer reasonably believes that the suicide threat is real and that the client is suffering from some mental disorder or disability that prevents him from making a rational decision about whether to continue living.
CALL THEM, MAYBE? (Our December 2014 Q&A in Massachusetts Lawyers Journal)
Although I’ve been practicing law for over 30 years, and I think quite good at the kind of work I do (specific types of litigation), I am have been feeling increasingly incompetent when it comes to handling my relationships with clients and, in some cases, other lawyers — especially since leaving a firm to establish my own practice. In some cases, clients are not paying me even when I’ve done a yeoman’s job for them, so I’m necessarily in the process of cutting my overhead and have built some debt. But my biggest problem, which has mushroomed, is of not returning clients’ calls. Sidestepping calls means not having to face their complaints, demands, expressions of stress and, anger (which happens less than I often expect). Then, the longer calls go unanswered, the more I feel I’ve failed by ignoring them, which makes it even harder. I am not late on any necessary legal tasks, filings, etc. But every client views him or herself as the most important one, and I may not have answers for them when they call. I certainly know that this is a bad pattern, and is likely to generate complaints, but the allure of avoiding many calls can be irresistible. Advice?
ANSWER: Click here.