Ethics: Whose Client Is It?

One topic addressed during the final panel session of the recent NCRA Trial Presentation and Certified Legal Video Specialist programs in Phoenix was how to handle it when someone sends you a referral to their client, and that client later asks you to do additional work for them.

It was suggested that the referring firm should be contacted for any subsequent work on that matter. In other words, if that client were to contact you to perform additional work directly related to that case, you should notify the referring firm, and they should then have the option to do as they wish with their client regarding any additional work. Of course, if the client requests you specifically, then that request should be respected and honored if possible by the referring firm as well. With respect to trial presentation services, I would certainly agree with this.

Now, where I have trouble is the example which was shared in which the client then later contacts you directly about a different, unrelated matter. For videographers, apparently the door is open at that point to accept work directly from the client without notifying or involving the original referring firm. If the client was local and the referring firm was not, it was then fair game to take that client from them. I’m not so sure that this is really a good way to do business and maintain a healthy relationship with the referring firm – regardless of location and proximity.

It may be because there are a larger number of videographers throughout the country, coupled with the fact that the client-vendor relationship is rather brief, but I can tell you that this would never fly in the trial presentation community. You would have only one opportunity to steal a client, and you would probably never again get called for additional work from the referring firm. I don’t know how small and close the videographer community really is, but I can tell you that most everyone in the trial presentation business knows who most everyone else is, and whether they have ever taken someone else’s client. In my opinion, this would apply to marketing to co-counsel or even opposing counsel while working on behalf of a referring firm. As a subcontractor, you are not there to represent yourself, but rather the prime contactor who referred you in the first place.

Although the client-vendor relationship is a stronger factor in trial presentation, I would suggest that it may be a good idea for videographers to consider whose client it was in the first place, and whether snapping up a little extra work now could cost you much more later. If there is a question as to whether it is the right thing to do, the safe and honorable thing to do would be to contact the referring firm. Although you may be losing out on a few quick dollars in doing so, the long-term effect can be far more valuable. We are all only as good as our reputation.

Ted Brooks, President
Litigation-Tech LLC
"Enhancing the Art of Communication"
Member, American Society of Trial Consultants
Certified inData TrialDirector Trainer
415-291-9900 San Francisco
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