I am a third-year associate who, after getting off to a rocky start, knows the ropes fairly well now at a mid-size firm (about 200 lawyers). But I’m stumped on how to handle a potential ethical lapse. The firm has a client that is a regional seafood distributor, among other things. I was involved in a litigation matter for the client doing document review and interviews at the client’s site over an extended period of time. I developed a nice working relationship with one of the managers at the site and, after two months of what I would call harmless flirting, he ended up giving me a case of crabs.
I’m not making this up: an actual, physical case of crabs. He said it was worth $300.00 “on the market.” I was a bit taken aback but took the case and ended up taking it home (I wasn’t planning to return to the office that day). With what I estimated was 20 pounds of crab, over the weekend my fiance and I had a party that featured crabcakes, crabclaws, a crab boil, etc.
I didn’t tell the assigned partner on the matter. I just wasn’t thinking, though it’s not like I could go out and sell the crabs on the street. It’s been two weeks now and things are fine, but it still sort of gnaws at me that I made an ethical lapse. What should I do?
Normally, I wouldn’t advise an associate to come clean to a partner about a case of crabs, but this case offers at least one remarkable exception to that rule. Come clean. Tell the partner that you got a case of crabs, how you got it, and what you did. In fact, after only two weeks, you may be over-thinking this. But there are at least two issues to discuss, along with offering up your mea culpa:
- Not informing the partner who, after all, would have found out no matter what you did. And, more than likely the partner will find out from the client, making you look like you were hiding or stealing something because . . . (move to number 2)
- It wasn’t your case of crabs. It was the firm’s, and the firm is the one to decide what to do with a case of crabs from a client (though, to be honest, I’m not sure how you’d be received walking in the next day with a boxful of possibly dead crabs). Maybe you should offer the value of the gift to the firm, but it’s unlikely the firm will insist on that. But be prepared. And I cannot resist saying one more thing: don’t try to give the partner his or her own case of crabs.
My guess is, once you tell the partner, you’ll both laugh about it. I am. It’s the first actual case of crabs I’ve come across in practice, and that’s saying something.