Cases involving “high-profile” individuals may involve unique challenges, complexities and potential pitfalls that attorneys must be aware of in order to ensure proper representation, a positive result, and a happy client.
By David G. Sarif, Family Lawyer
Before getting into the potential pros and cons of representing a high-profile client, it is prudent to define who exactly qualifies as a “high-profile” client. For most people, the first thing that comes to mind when they think of a high-profile person is a celebrity, such as a movie star, television actor, singer, or professional athlete. However, there are also plenty of non-famous yet “high-profile” clients who may also require special or unique treatment, such as successful business owners, executives, community leaders, public officials, and politicians. Identifying and recognizing potential clients as high-profile is a critical, yet an often overlooked step of proper and effective representation. For if an attorney fails to identify a client as high-profile, he or she could make a critical mistake that could severely compromise either the privacy of the client, or even circumvent a favorable outcome in the case.
A few issues for attorneys to consider when deciding whether or not to undertake such representation include:
Whether you are in business to meet famous people or to make money.
Whether you are intimidated by meeting someone famous and if so, whether you can keep it under control.
Whether you can properly handle the media and press that will likely follow the case.
Whether you can deal with the intermediaries throughout the process that often run high-profile clients’ lives such as other attorneys, agents, financial advisors, business managers, significant others, and/or marketing specialists.
Further, although high-profile clients often have a higher ability to pay than the majority of people, some will nonetheless expect either free or discounted services, citing the publicity and attention they bring by virtue of them being your client (i.e. some will feel that you “owe” them for choosing your firm). In the end, only you can decide whether the publicity that the high-profile client brings with them is worth it, and whether the high stakes and expectations involved are overly burdensome or exciting, challenging, and rewarding.
High-Profile Representation Strategies
If you ultimately determine that you want to undertake representation of a high-profile client, there are certain nuances and strategic decisions that must be considered apart from the normal scope of representation. As an initial matter, you must understand who in your client’s personal life will and will not be most helpful to your representation. For example, people like the client’s mother or father will usually be very helpful, given that generally there is a much lower probability they have their own agenda. On the other hand, groupies and entourage members are not likely to provide much, if any, help at all, given that they are typically only around for their own interests rather than the client’s.
There are several strategic decisions to address early in the representation whenever possible. Understandably, high-profile clients are often concerned about their information, especially financial information, being leaked to the media or made available for public scrutiny. Accordingly, depending on the individual circumstances of the case, a confidentiality order is often appropriate, and obtaining one by agreement with the other side is ideal. Also, to further assist your client in realizing his or her goals, engage proper experts, such as financial and custody experts, as early as possible. Furthermore, be sure to remind the client that everything they put on social media is public, and that anything they say in digital form (i.e. text messages) can leak out at any time and cause irreparable damage to both their image and to the case.
Recognizing High-Profile Challenges
Other challenges attorneys are likely to face in representing high-profile clients include potentially intense media scrutiny of your client and the case, potentially high-maintenance clients with an overinflated sense of self-worth, competition from other attorneys willing to tell the client whatever they want to hear just to get their business (including second guessing your work in the media), and defending your client from disparaging internet gossip. Further, you must recognize that there are many different personality types and it is very possible that you will have to deal with some extremes, either with the client or their representatives. Also, keep in mind that their family and representatives are often there to protect and shield them from the outside world (including their attorneys), which makes it more difficult to deliver advice that the client needs to hear since they are so accustomed to being in control of any given situation.
Another difficulty presents itself in situations where the client does not want to be involved in the case. This issue could be either positive or negative, but regardless, the fact remains that the client must be the one to sign off on all documents in your presence, not their agent. Remember, it is alright to reject or fire a client who is unwilling to cooperate with such simple requests. Ultimately, you must ask yourself whether you are willing to risk your reputation simply to allow a high-profile client to bend the rules.
Like with all cases and clients, acknowledging and preparing for potential challenges and complexities ahead of time will help ensure a positive experience for both the client and the attorney alike. While these are all manageable challenges that should not necessarily prevent you from accepting the representation, they are issues that you must be willing to deal with from the outset.
David Sarif is an Associate at Kessler & Solominay, LLC. Mr. Sarif has been honored as a Georgia Super Lawyers Rising Star in multiple years, and has represented numerous high-profile entertainers, musicians, and professional athletes. He devotes 100% of his practice to family law.