You’re doing an initial consultation this morning. You’re in your best suit, and the office is straightened up.
She arrives at the front desk, and you walk out to the lobby and greet her. She stands up, and so does her mother. Her mother? That wasn’t part of the plan.
She’d like to bring momma back to your office to join you for the meeting.
What should you do?
I’m a big advocate of bringing momma (or daddy or best friend) back into the room when that’s important to the client. Of course, I don’t really want friends and family back there if there’s some potential conflict of interest issue (like when the client brings the new girlfriend or boyfriend).
Generally, I think it’s good to have someone come along for the consult because prospective clients are in such an emotional state that they can’t always hear and understand your advice. It’s good to have a second set of ears along for the ride.
As we get started with the meeting, I talk about attorney-client privilege. I explain that having the third party present will cause the loss of the privilege and that I can be required to testify to anything I hear in the meeting. I explain that we can, if necessary, have the third party leave for a bit to discuss anything that needs the protection of the privilege.
When I go through the little explanation of holding a private part of the meeting, the client invariably explains that the third party already knows all of what will be said in that private session. I explain that it’s not the third party the client needs to worry about revealing the info. I explain that we’re protecting the information from being revealed by me.
As we go through the meeting, I try to assess whether the client really wants the third party present or whether we’re having a threesome because the third party insisted. It’s not uncommon for the parent paying the fee to insist on coming to an adult child’s consultation. I make sure we have some private time when I can feel that pressure present in the room. It’s important to remember who the client really is, regardless of who might be paying the bill.
Overall, I think having the third party present is a positive. The privilege issues and the logistics of these meetings can prove challenging, but having someone rational helping is usually a good thing. Having a relationship with that rational person and educating him or her usually helps smooth that path to resolution.
Different attorneys take different approaches to dealing with third parties. I know attorneys who won’t let anyone in the meeting. I know others who take the client back first, talk through these issues, and then bring in the third party.
Your approach will likely be a unique hybrid. The key is being prepared for when momma shows up and having a plan. You’ll find that managing momma is as important as managing your client.