Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Lawyers/clients and students/profs similarities?

The focus of the dankprofessor blog is on consensual sexual relationships between students and professors.  Occasionally I look beyond the university to see how consensual relationships are handled in other contexts.  What is presently happening in Texas as regards the client lawyer relationship definitely is of interest.

Attorneys working on behalf of the Texas Supreme Court and State Bar of Texas have proposed the state’s first rule prohibiting lawyers from engaging in sexual relationships with clients.

• Lawyers won’t condition representation on having a client engage in sexual relations.

• Lawyers won’t solicit sex as payment of fees.

• Lawyers won’t have sex with someone the lawyer is personally representing unless the sexual relationship is consensual and began before the attorney-client relationship began or if the attorney and client are married.

Now this looks quite reasonable to the dankprofessor and could possibly represent a viable compromise that could be applied to the student professor situation.  However, I do have a major caveat regarding this proposed policy and that regards the automatic exemption from regulation if the attorney and client are married.  Problem is that marriage in Texas is not open to same sex couples so the policy appears to end up discriminating against gay couples.  I say appears since the policy exempts from regulation couples who had an ongoing relationship prior to the client/attorney relationship.  So the marriage reference could be dropped without reference to marriage.

Even with the aforementioned change, there is a whole array of problems that could come into play.  How does one prove that a sexual relationship occurred prior to the attorney/client relationship?  Might such proof function as an invasion of privacy of the client? Who can initiate said investigation, etc?  I trust that these procedural matters will be discussed as the policy consideration proceeds.

It also should be pointed out that the lawyer/client relationship is more like the psychotherapist/patient relationship than the student professor relationship.  In both of the aforementioned relationships the relationship generally occurs on a one to one basis in a private setting, a setting in which it is of paramount importance that the client be able to be completely open with the lawyer.  Both the patient and the client usually enter the relationship in a situation of high anxiety; both are in a situation of dis-ease. Such is not ordinarily the situation of students taking a class in a public setting in which revelation of personal intimate information is generally not required.

In addition, the client does not become a part of the legal community. The student does become a part of the university community.  And the student is not paired with a particular professor in which the pair is in an adversarial relationship with another professor.

Although there are things we can learn from the Texas proposal, in no way do I want the university campus to become similar to a court room and more similar to the legal profession.  If anything, too many university campuses have become torn asunder under the tutelege of dueling lawyers.

October 4, 2010 - Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, sex, sexual politics, student professor dating


  1. There’s one problem with this scenario: if the attorney is married/liaisoned to the client, in a case of client = defendant, the attorney will do anything legal/illegal to bail him/her out, rather than stay unbiased. Conversely, if they’re in a ‘bad relationship’, s/he could ‘allow’ for the defendant being sent down for something s/he hadn’t even done. Conflicts of interest that could be abused in a good or bad, fair or unfair way. So in that case, such a ‘power dynamic’ imbalance is very inadvisable.

    Comment by Novalis Lore | October 5, 2010 | Reply

  2. All just men, women & minor teens should agree with stipulations #1 and # 2, of the Texas Proposal. I, like the Dank Professor, have some misgivings with # 3. As he said, who’s to say when the dating or sexual aspect began? I feel it would be a gross invasion of privacy, not only for the client, but for the attorney as well, if some “ethics board” interrogated each as to when the social mingling began. As long as the client was freely consenting, without any pressure from the lawyer, then that aspect of stipulation # 3 should be without merit.
    Novalis Lore did present a scenario, which ALL lawyers best avoid! If he/she felt that it wasn’t possible to be fair to an ex date, or if the temptation was too great to break the law, in favor of a present partner, then the client should be turned over to another lawyer.
    Under no circumstances, though, should a mere sighting of lawyer & client at a restaurant, movie theater, or of one entering the others’ residence be grounds for “disciplining” the attorney! This is a matter of Civil Rights, and also Constitutional Rights, since the State is overseeing the attorneys.

    Comment by Donald Visconti | October 10, 2010 | Reply

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