With over 1.3 million licensed lawyers in the United States, the legal profession may seem expansive, but lawyers are a surprisingly small and tight-knit community. And if you own your own business or serve in a decision-making role for a business, there’s a chance you know some of the attorneys in your community or network personally. Maybe they’re friends from high school or college. Maybe they’re a spouse of a colleague or even one of your family members. Or maybe they’re just people you’ve met in passing a few times.
If you’re a business owner looking for legal counsel, it would make sense that you would pick from the pool of attorneys you know — and, therefore, trust. I get it. If you already have an established relationship with an attorney by way of your personal — not professional — connection, it saves you precious time having to hunt for outside counsel. People are also more comfortable working with someone they’re familiar with, rather than complete strangers. Additionally, business owners often get a ‘friends and family’ discount when working with an attorney they know.
But I need to tell you why hiring a friend might not be a smart business move.
Keep emotions out of hiring decisions
One of the reasons we choose to work with friends is our emotional connection to them. But there is also a sense of obligation as well. Imagine if word got out that your company was involved in an important transaction and you selected an unknown law firm instead of your best friend’s law firm. This could cause some hurt feelings that you didn’t entrust your attorney friends to help you through a situation, which could damage your personal relationships. To avoid interpersonal conflict or to meet social expectations or even to get a discount, people will hire their friends as their lawyers, even if they’re not entirely confident their friend is as experienced about their unique situation as others in the field may be.
And you can imagine what can result from doing that. Social and personal pressures and expectations are never good reasons to choose a lawyer. While there might be a situation where your best friend’s law firm is the best law firm for your specific issue, make sure that you’re getting the right advice for the right reason, and don’t hire a lawyer to ensure you’re invited to that Labor Day barbecue! And if your friend’s law firm is not up to the task and you engage them anyway, be aware that you could find yourself in very difficult legal and personal territory.
There will be conflict
The second you hire a friend as your lawyer, there is already conflict within the relationship. Here’s why: any attorney you hire isn’t representing you, they are representing your company. If something were to go wrong, they can’t help you as an individual because they aren’t representing you personally. Not only could this forever alter a relationship between two friends, but, again, you risk entering into troubling territory if the relationship between you and the company were to sour, or an issue were to arise where the company and each of its decision-makers were to require separate counsel. In that case, your friend would not be able to discuss anything with you, and that Labor Day barbecue you wanted to attend might be quite awkward indeed!
Keep business and personal matters separate
I have so many great relationships within the legal community, and so many accomplished lawyer friends that it has been difficult at times to remember to exercise such extreme caution in hiring outside counsel. I want all my top-notch friends to be on my team! Now, if there is a circumstance where a friend or colleague is the absolute best person for the job, once hired, I try to ensure that we do not work directly together.
So when it comes to official matters, it’s best to find an outside counsel that can represent your company and its legal matters without emotions and conflict involved, and to rely on a lawyer friend or family member’s advice as a trusted, personal advisor when you need to run an idea to ground, or seek a referral for a specialist. When it comes to business, sometimes it’s best to keep your friends as friends.