A Client calls you at midnight obviously distressed. It is your observation that the client may have taken prescribed drugs which she has now combined with some alcohol. She claims that she is anxious as a result of Husband’s abusive language and his daily barrage of threats. The parties have one minor child; and Wife is the primary custodian of him. Custody is an issue in the case. What to do?
A good divorce lawyer is always a legal advisor first; but, at times, may also function as a priest, rabbi or psychologist. In a situation like this where custody is an issue and when the client may do something (potentially) “dramatic”, what is the responsibility of the lawyer? Should he notify the police? Call neighbors? Call the client’s relatives? Do nothing?
The Cannons of Professional Responsibility state, in part, that a lawyer should not reveal information relating to a client except if he believes to the extent reasonably necessary that it will prevent certain death or substantial bodily harm. In this instance, after speaking to the client for over one hour on the telephone, the lawyer believed that there was no immediate danger and reasonably believed that certain death or substantial bodily harm would not likely occur.
However, what if it was otherwise? If the lawyer called the police then that might be “the ball game” for the pending custody action (ending negatively for the client). If the lawyer didn’t call the police and misjudged the client’s mental health; and, “substantial bodily harm” resulted, then, everyone, including the lawyer, would be second guessing himself/themselves. Not a good situation! All that one can do is to exercise good judgment in the moment.