Texas lawyers' 'sex with clients' rule exposes rifts

SMU Law Professor Linda Eads talks about the Texas lawyers' 'sex with clients' rule.

The Dallas Morning News

Lawyers and their love lives have made for pretty good television over the years, but the state's real-life failure to regulate sexual relationships between lawyers and their clients is becoming one of Texas' longest-running legal dramas.

For seven years, lawyers working on behalf of the Texas Supreme Court have been drafting new rules of conduct for state-licensed attorneys.

Now, with a draft of those rules finally on the table, the biggest sticking point has been the innocuously named Rule 1.13, or as it is more interestingly known, the "sex with clients" rule.

Unlike the large majority of other state bars, the State Bar of Texas' rules of conduct do not include any prohibitions against an attorney engaging in a sexual relationship with a client – a common restriction for licensed professionals from doctors to social workers to massage therapists.

Such a rule might seem simple to put on the books, but, in fact, has been under discussion for decades in some legal circles. . . 

Linda Eads, a professor at Southern Methodist University's Dedman School of Law, disagreed that the rule isn't strict enough.

The rule "provides notification to the lawyers of Texas that they cannot engage in this behavior and have sex with clients," said Eads, a former chair of the state bar committee on disciplinary rules.

"The only exception is if you are already married or have a pre-existing relationship. ... We don't want people [in existing relationships] to be prevented from helping [a partner] with legal advice," she said.

Eads said the proposed rule is adequate as written, but added she would have no problem if it were amended to prohibit a lawyer who begins a relationship with a client from transferring that client within the same firm.

In many ways, the state bar's proposed rule is similar to the American Bar Association's model rule, which states that a lawyer will not engage in a sexual relationship with a client unless the relationship began before the attorney-client relationship.

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