Massachusetts Ethics Rules

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    All 50 states govern lawyer advertising through their Rules of Professional Conduct, often known as “ethics rules.” The rules in each state are unique to that state. Therefore, it is imperative that lawyers familiarize themselves with the rules of the states that govern their conduct.

    Rule 7.1 – Communications Concerning a Lawyer’s Services

    A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services. A communication is false or misleading if it contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading.

    Adopted March 26, 2015, amended July 13, 2022, effective October 1, 2022.

    Comment

    [1] This Rule governs all communications about a lawyer’s services, including advertising. Whatever means are used to make known a lawyer’s services, statements about them must be truthful.

    [2] Misleading statements, even if truthful, are prohibited by this Rule. A truthful statement is misleading if it omits a fact necessary to make the lawyer’s communication considered as a whole not materially misleading. A truthful statement is misleading if a substantial likelihood exists that it will lead a reasonable person to formulate a specific conclusion about the lawyer or the lawyer’s services for which there is no reasonable factual foundation. A truthful statement is also misleading if presented in a way that creates a substantial likelihood that a reasonable person would believe the lawyer’s communication requires that person to take further action when, in fact, no action is required.

    [3] A communication that truthfully reports a lawyer’s achievements on behalf of clients or former clients may be misleading if presented so as to lead a reasonable person to form an unjustified expectation that the same results could be obtained for other clients in similar matters without reference to the specific factual and legal circumstances of each client’s case. Similarly, an unsubstantiated claim about a lawyer’s or law firm’s services or fees, or an unsubstantiated comparison of the lawyer’s or law firm’s services or fees with those of other lawyers or law firms, may be misleading if presented with such specificity as would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the comparison or claim can be substantiated. The inclusion of an appropriate disclaimer or qualifying language may preclude a finding that a statement is likely to create unjustified expectations or otherwise mislead the public.

    [4] It is professional misconduct for a lawyer to engage in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation. Rule 8.4(c). See also Rule 8.4(e) for the prohibition against stating or implying an ability to improperly influence a government agency or official or to achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law.

    [5] Firm names, letterhead, and professional designations are communications concerning a lawyer’s services. A firm may be designated by the names of all or some of its current members, by the names of deceased or retired members where there has been a succession in the firm’s identity, or by a trade name if it is not false or misleading. A lawyer or law firm also may be designated by a distinctive website address, social media username or comparable professional designation that is not misleading. A law firm name or designation is misleading if it implies a connection with a government agency, with a deceased or retired lawyer who was not a former member of the firm, with a lawyer not associated with the firm or a predecessor firm, with a nonlawyer, or with a public or charitable legal services organization. If a firm uses a trade name that includes a geographical name such as “Springfield Legal Clinic,” an express statement explaining that it is not a public legal aid organization may be required to avoid a misleading implication.

    [6] A law firm with offices in more than one jurisdiction may use the same name or other professional designation in each jurisdiction, but identification of the lawyers in an office of the firm shall indicate the jurisdictional limitations on those not licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where the office is located.

    [7] Lawyers may not imply or hold themselves out as practicing together in one firm when they are not a firm, as defined in Rule 1.0(e), because to do so would be false and misleading. For example, lawyers who are not in fact partners, such as those who are only sharing office facilities, may not denominate themselves as, for example, “Smith and Jones,” or “Smith and Jones, A Professional Association,” for those titles, in the absence of an effective disclaimer of joint responsibility, suggest partnership in the practice of law or that they are practicing law together in a firm. Likewise, the use of the term “associates” by a group of lawyers implies practice in either a partnership or sole proprietorship form and may not be used by a group in which the individual members disclaim the joint or vicarious responsibility inherent in such forms of business in the absence of an effective disclaimer of such responsibility.

    [8] It is misleading to use the name of a lawyer holding a public office in the name of a law firm, or in communications on the law firm’s behalf, during any substantial period in which the lawyer is not actively and regularly practicing with the firm.

    [9] S.J.C. Rule 3:06 imposes further restrictions on trade names for firms that are professional corporations, limited liability companies or limited liability partnerships.

    Rule 7.2 – Communications Concerning a Lawyer’s Services; Specific Rules.

    (a) A lawyer may communicate information regarding the lawyer’s services through any media.

    (b) A lawyer shall neither compensate nor give or promise anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services, except that a lawyer may:
    (1) pay the reasonable costs of advertisements or communications permitted by this Rule;
    (2) pay the usual charges of a legal service plan, not-for-profit lawyer referral service, or qualified legal assistance organization;
    (3) pay for a law practice in accordance with Rule 1.17;
    (4) refer clients to another lawyer or a nonlawyer professional pursuant to an agreement not otherwise prohibited under these Rules that provides for the other person to refer clients or customers to the lawyer, if
    (i) the reciprocal referral agreement is not exclusive, and
    (ii) the client is informed of the existence and nature of the agreement; and
    (5) give nominal gifts as an expression of appreciation that are neither intended nor reasonably expected to be a form of compensation for recommending a lawyer’s services.

    (c) Lawyers may hold themselves out publicly as specialists in particular services, fields, and areas of law if the communication is not false or misleading. Such holding out includes a statement that the lawyer concentrates in, specializes in, is certified in, has expertise in, or limits practice to a particular service, field, or area of law. However, a lawyer shall not state or imply that a lawyer is certified as a specialist in a particular field of law, unless the certifying organization is clearly identified in the communication, and:
    (1) the lawyer has been certified as a specialist by an organization that has been approved by an appropriate State authority or that has been accredited by the American Bar Association; or
    (2) the communication states that the certifying organization is “a private organization, whose standards for certification are not regulated by a state authority or the American Bar Association.”

    (d) Any communication made under this Rule must include the name of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its content.

    Adopted March 26, 2015, amended July 13, 2022, effective October 1, 2022.

    Comment

    [1] This Rule permits public dissemination of information concerning a lawyer’s or law firm’s name, address, email address, website, and telephone number; the kinds of services the lawyer will undertake; the basis on which the lawyer’s fees are determined, including prices for specific services and payment and credit arrangements; a lawyer’s foreign language ability; names of references and, with their consent, names of clients regularly represented; and other information that might invite the attention of those seeking legal assistance.

    Paying Others to Recommend a Lawyer

    [2] Except as permitted under paragraphs (b)(1)-(b)(5), lawyers are not permitted to pay others for recommending the lawyer’s services. A communication contains a recommendation if it endorses or vouches for a lawyer’s credentials, abilities, competence, character, or other professional qualities. Directory listings and group advertisements that list lawyers by practice area, without more, do not constitute impermissible “recommendations.”

    [3] Paragraph (b)(1) allows a lawyer to pay for advertising and communications permitted by this Rule, including the costs of print directory listings, on-line directory listings, newspaper ads, television and radio airtime, domain-name registrations, sponsorship fees, Internet-based advertisements, and group advertising. A lawyer may compensate employees, agents, and vendors who are engaged to provide marketing or client development services, such as publicists, public relations personnel, business development staff, television and radio station employees or spokespersons, and website designers.

    [4] Paragraph (b)(5) permits lawyers to give nominal gifts as an expression of appreciation to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services or referring a prospective client. The gift may not be more than a token item as might be given for holidays, or other ordinary social hospitality. A gift is prohibited if offered or given in consideration of any promise, agreement or understanding that such a gift would be forthcoming or that referrals would be made or encouraged in the future.

    [5] A lawyer may pay others for generating client leads, such as Internet-based client leads, as long as the lead generator does not recommend the lawyer, any payment to the lead generator is consistent with Rules 1.5(e) (division of fees) and 5.4 (professional independence of the lawyer), and the lead generator’s communications are consistent with Rule 7.1 (communications concerning a lawyer’s services). To comply with Rule 7.1, a lawyer must not pay a lead generator that states, implies, or creates a reasonable impression that it is recommending the lawyer, is making the referral without payment from the lawyer, or has analyzed a person’s legal problems when determining which lawyer should receive the referral. See Comment 2 (definition of “recommendation”). See also Rule 5.3 (duties of lawyers and law firms with respect to the conduct of nonlawyers); Rule 8.4(a) (duty to avoid violating the Rules through the acts of another).

    [6] A lawyer may pay the usual charges of a legal service plan, not-for-profit lawyer referral service, or qualified legal assistance organization. A legal service plan is a prepaid or group legal service plan or a similar delivery system that assists people who seek to secure legal representation. A lawyer referral service is a consumer-oriented organization that provides unbiased referrals to lawyers with appropriate experience in the subject matter of the representation and affords other client protections, such as complaint procedures or malpractice insurance requirements. A qualified legal assistance organization is defined by Rule 1.0(k).

    [7] A lawyer who accepts assignments or referrals from a legal service plan or referrals from a lawyer referral service must act reasonably to assure that the activities of the plan or service are compatible with the lawyer’s professional obligations. Legal service plans and lawyer referral services may communicate with the public, but such communication must be in conformity with these Rules. Thus, advertising must not be false or misleading, as would be the case if the communications of a group advertising program or a group legal services plan would mislead the public to think that it was a lawyer referral service sponsored by a state agency or bar association.

    [8] A lawyer also may agree to refer clients to another lawyer or a nonlawyer professional, in return for the undertaking of that person to refer clients or customers to the lawyer. Such reciprocal referral arrangements must not interfere with the lawyer’s professional judgment as to making referrals or as to providing substantive legal services. See Rules 2.1 and 5.4(c). Except as provided in Rule 1.5(e), a lawyer who receives referrals from a lawyer or nonlawyer professional must not pay anything solely for the referral, but the lawyer does not violate paragraph (b) of this Rule by agreeing to refer clients to the other lawyer or nonlawyer professional, so long as the reciprocal referral agreement is not exclusive and the client is informed of the referral agreement. Conflicts of interest created by such arrangements are governed by Rule 1.7. Reciprocal referral agreements should not be of indefinite duration and should be reviewed periodically to determine whether they comply with these Rules. This Rule does not restrict referrals or divisions of revenues or net income among lawyers within firms comprised of multiple entities.

    Communications about Fields of Practice

    [9] Paragraph (c) of this Rule permits a lawyer to communicate that the lawyer does or does not practice in particular areas of law. A lawyer is generally permitted to state that the lawyer “concentrates in” or is a “specialist,” practices a “specialty,” or “specializes in” particular fields based on the lawyer’s experience, specialized training or education, but such communications are subject to the “false and misleading” standard applied in Rule 7.1 to communications concerning a lawyer’s services. Lawyers who hold themselves out as specialists should expect to be held to the standard of performance of specialists in that particular service, field, or area.

    [10] The Patent and Trademark Office has a long-established policy of licensing lawyers practicing before the Office. The designation of Admiralty practice also has a long historical tradition associated with maritime commerce and the federal courts. A lawyer’s communications about these practice areas are not prohibited by this Rule.

    [11] This Rule permits a lawyer to state that the lawyer is certified as a specialist in a field of law if such certification is granted by an organization approved by an appropriate authority of a state, the District of Columbia, or a United States Territory, or accredited by the American Bar Association or another organization, such as a state supreme court or a state bar association, that has been approved by the authority of the state, the District of Columbia, or a United States Territory to accredit organizations that certify lawyers as specialists. Certification signifies that an objective entity has recognized an advanced degree of knowledge and experience in the specialty area greater than is suggested by general licensure to practice law. Certifying organizations may be expected to apply standards of experience, knowledge and proficiency to ensure that a lawyer’s recognition as a specialist is meaningful and reliable. To ensure that consumers can obtain access to useful information about an organization granting certification, the name of the certifying organization must be included in any communication regarding the certification.

    Rule 7.3 – Solicitation of Clients

    (a) “Solicitation” or “solicit” denotes a communication initiated by or on behalf of a lawyer or law firm that is directed to a specific person the lawyer knows or reasonably should know needs legal services in a particular matter and that offers to provide, or reasonably can be understood as offering to provide, legal services for that matter.

    (b) A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment by live person-to-person contact when a significant motive for the lawyer’s doing so is the lawyer’s or law firm’s pecuniary gain, unless the contact is with a
    (1) lawyer;
    (2) person who has a family, close personal, or prior business or professional relationship with the lawyer or law firm; or
    (3) (i) representative of an organization, including a non-profit or government entity, in connection with the activities of such organization, or (ii) person engaged in trade or commerce as defined in G. L. c. 93A, § 1 (b), in connection with such person’s trade or commerce.

    (c) A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment even when not otherwise prohibited by paragraph (b), if:
    (1) the target of the solicitation has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited by the lawyer;
    (2) the solicitation involves coercion, duress or harassment; or (3) the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the physical, mental, or emotional state of the target of the solicitation is such that the target cannot exercise reasonable judgment in employing a lawyer, provided, however, the prohibition in this clause. (3) only applies to solicitations for a fee.

    (d) This Rule does not prohibit communications authorized by law or ordered by a court or other tribunal.

    (e) Notwithstanding the prohibitions in this Rule, a lawyer may participate with a prepaid or group legal service plan operated by an organization not owned or directed by the lawyer that uses live person-to-person contact to enroll members or sell subscriptions for the plan from persons who are not known to need legal services in a particular matter covered by the plan.

    Adopted March 26, 2015, amended July 13, 2022, effective October 1, 2022.

    Comment

    [1] Paragraph (b) prohibits a lawyer from soliciting professional employment by live person-to-person contact when a significant motive for the lawyer’s doing so is the lawyer’s or the law firm’s pecuniary gain. A lawyer’s communication is not a solicitation if it is directed to the general public, such as through a billboard, an Internet banner advertisement, a website or a television commercial, or if it is in response to a request for information or is automatically generated in response to electronic searches.

    [2] For purposes of the prohibition in paragraph (b), “live person-to-person contact” means in-person, face-to-face, live telephone, and other real-time visual or auditory person-to-person communications where the person is subject to a direct personal encounter without time for reflection. Such person-to-person contact does not include text messages or other written communications that recipients may easily disregard. A potential for overreaching exists when a lawyer, seeking pecuniary gain, solicits a person known to be in need of legal services. This form of contact subjects a person to the private importuning of the trained advocate in a direct interpersonal encounter. The person, who may already feel overwhelmed by the circumstances giving rise to the need for legal services, may find it difficult to fully evaluate all available alternatives with reasoned judgment and appropriate selfinterest in the face of the lawyer’s presence and insistence upon an immediate response. The situation is fraught with the possibility of undue influence, intimidation, and overreaching. The prohibitions of paragraph (b) do not of course apply to in-person communications after contact has been initiated by a person seeking legal services.

    [3] The potential for overreaching inherent in live person-to-person contact justifies its prohibition, since lawyers have alternative means of conveying necessary information. In particular, communications can be mailed or transmitted by email or other electronic means that do not violate other laws. These forms of communications make it possible for the public to be informed about the need for legal services, and about the qualifications of available lawyers and law firms, without subjecting the public to live person-to-person persuasion that may overwhelm a person’s judgment.

    [4] The contents of live person-to-person contact can be disputed and may not be subject to thirdparty scrutiny. Consequently, they are much more likely to approach (and occasionally cross) the dividing line between accurate representations and those that are false and misleading.

    [5] Paragraph (b) acknowledges that there is far less likelihood that a lawyer would engage in overreaching against a former client, or a person with whom the lawyer has a close personal, family, business, or professional relationship, or in situations in which the lawyer is motivated by considerations other than the lawyer’s pecuniary gain. Nor is there a serious potential for overreaching when the person contacted is a lawyer, or is a representative of an organization, including a non-profit or government entity, or is a person engaged in trade or commerce as defined in G. L. c. 93A, § 1 (b), where the contact is in connection with the activities of such organization or the person’s trade or commerce. Paragraph (b) is not intended to prohibit a lawyer from participating in constitutionally protected activities of public or charitable legal-service organizations or bona fide political, social, civic, fraternal, employee, or trade organizations whose purposes include providing or recommending legal services to their members or beneficiaries.

    [6] Prohibited solicitations include those that contain false or misleading information within the meaning of Rule 7.1, that involve contact with someone who has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited by the lawyer within the meaning of Rule 7.3(c)(1), that involve coercion, duress, or harassment within the meaning of Rule 7.3(c)(2), or that involve communications with someone who the lawyer knows or should know cannot exercise reasonable judgment in employing a lawyer within the meaning of Rule 7.3(c)(3). In determining whether a contact is permissible under Rule 7.3(c)(3), it is relevant to consider the times and circumstances under which the contact is initiated. For example, a person undergoing active medical treatment for traumatic injury is unlikely to be in an emotional state in which reasonable judgment about employing a lawyer can be exercised. Likewise, persons who are elderly or disabled, or who are not fluent in the language of the solicitation, may be especially vulnerable to coercion or duress. The reference to the “physical, mental, or emotional state of the target of the solicitation” is intended to be all-inclusive of the condition of such person and includes anyone who for any reason lacks sufficient sophistication to be able to select a lawyer. A proviso in subparagraph (c)(3) makes clear that it is not intended to reduce the ability possessed by nonprofit organizations to contact the elderly and the mentally disturbed or disabled. Abuse of the right to solicit such persons by non-profit organizations may constitute a violation of paragraph (c)(2) of the Rule or Rule 8.4(c) or (d). The references in paragraph (b) and (c)(3) of the Rule to solicitation for “the lawyer’s or the law firm’s pecuniary gain” or “for a fee” are intended to exempt solicitations by non-profit organizations. Where such an organization is involved, the fact that there may be a statutory entitlement to a fee is not intended by itself to bring the solicitation within the scope of the Rule.

    [7] This Rule does not prohibit a lawyer from contacting representatives of organizations or groups that may be interested in establishing a group or prepaid legal plan for their members, insureds, beneficiaries, or other third parties for the purpose of informing such entities of the availability of and details concerning the plan or arrangement which the lawyer or lawyer’s firm is willing to offer. This form of communication is not directed to people who are seeking legal services for themselves. Rather, it is usually addressed to an individual acting in a fiduciary capacity seeking a supplier of legal services for others who may, if they choose, become prospective clients of the lawyer. Under these circumstances, the activity which the lawyer undertakes in communicating with such representatives and the type of information transmitted to the individual are functionally similar to and serve the same purpose as advertising permitted under Rule 7.2.

    [8] Communications authorized by law or ordered by a court or tribunal including a notice to potential members of a class in class action litigation.

    [9] Paragraph (e) of this Rule permits a lawyer to participate with an organization that uses personal contact to enroll members for its group or prepaid legal service plan, provided that the personal contact is not undertaken by any lawyer who would be a provider of legal services through the plan. The organization must not be owned by or directed (whether as manager or otherwise) by any lawyer or law firm that participates in the plan. For example, paragraph (e) would not permit a lawyer to create an organization controlled directly or indirectly by the lawyer and use the organization for the person-to-person solicitation of legal employment of the lawyer through memberships in the plan or otherwise. The communication permitted by these organizations must not be directed to a person known to need legal services in a particular matter, but must be designed to inform potential plan members generally of another means of affordable legal services. Lawyers who participate in a legal service plan must reasonably assure that the plan sponsors are in compliance with Rules 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3(c).

     

    Rule 1.6 – Confidentiality of Information

    (a) A lawyer shall not reveal confidential information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation or the disclosure is permitted by paragraph (b).

    (b) A lawyer may reveal confidential information relating to the representation of a client to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary, and to the extent required by Rules 3.3, 4.1(b), 8.1 or 8.3 must reveal, such information:

    (1) to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm, or to prevent the wrongful execution or incarceration of another;

    (2) to prevent the commission of a criminal or fraudulent act that the lawyer reasonably believes is likely to result in substantial injury to property, financial, or other significant interests of another;

    (3) to prevent, mitigate or rectify substantial injury to property, financial, or other significant interests of another that is reasonably certain to result or has resulted from the client’s commission of a crime or fraud in furtherance of which the client has used the lawyer’s services;

    (4) to secure legal advice about the lawyer’s compliance with these Rules;

    (5) to establish a claim or defense on behalf of the lawyer in a controversy between the lawyer and the client, to establish a defense to a criminal charge or civil claim against the lawyer based upon conduct in which the client was involved, or to respond to allegations in any proceeding concerning the lawyer’s representation of the client;

    (6) to the extent permitted or required under these Rules or to comply with other law or a court order; or

    (7) to detect and resolve conflicts of interest arising from the lawyer’s potential change of employment or from changes in the composition or ownership of a firm, but only if the revealed information would not compromise the attorney-client privilege or otherwise prejudice the client.

    (c) A lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, confidential information relating to the representation of a client.

    (d) A lawyer participating in a lawyer assistance program, as hereinafter defined, shall treat the person so assisted as a client for the purposes of this Rule. Lawyer assistance means assistance provided to a lawyer,judge, other legal professional, or law student by a lawyer participating in an organized nonprofit effort to provide assistance in the form of (a) counseling as to practice matters (which shall not include counseling a law student in a law school clinical program) or (b) education as to personal health matters, such as the treatment and rehabilitation from a mental, emotional, or psychological disorder, alcoholism, substance abuse, or other addiction, or both. A lawyer named in an order of the Supreme Judicial Court or the Board of Bar Overseers concerning the monitoring or terms of probation of another attorney shall treat that other attorney as a client for the purposes of this Rule. Any lawyer participating in a lawyer assistance program may require a person acting under the lawyer’s supervision or control to sign a nondisclosure form approved by the Supreme Judicial Court. Nothing in this paragraph (d)shall require a bar association-sponsored ethics advisory committee, the Office of Bar Counsel, or any other governmental agency advising on questions of professional responsibility to treat persons so assisted as clients for the purpose of this Rule.

    Comment

    [1] This Rule governs the disclosure by a lawyer of confidential information relating to the representation of a client during the lawyer’s representation of the client. See Rule 1.18 for the lawyer’s duties with respect to confidential information provided to the lawyer by a prospective client, Rule 1.9(c)(2) for the lawyer’s duty not to reveal confidential information relating to the lawyer’s prior representation of a former client and Rules 1.8(b) and 1.9(c)(1) for the lawyer’s duties with respect to the use of such information to the disadvantage of clients and former clients.

    [2] A fundamental principle in the client-lawyer relationship is that, in the absence of the client’s informed consent or as otherwise permitted by these Rules, the lawyer must not reveal confidential information relating to the representation. See Rule 1.0(f) for the definition of informed consent. This contributes to the trust that is the hallmark of the client-lawyer relationship. The client is thereby encouraged to seek legal assistance and to communicate fully and frankly with the lawyer even as to embarrassing or legally damaging subject matter. The lawyer needs this information to represent the client effectively and, if necessary, to advise the client to refrain from wrongful conduct.

    [3] The principle of client-lawyer confidentiality established by this Rule is broader than the attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine. The attorney-client privilege and work-product doctrine apply in judicial and other proceedings in which a lawyer may be called as a witness or otherwise required to produce evidence concerning a client. The rule of client-lawyer confidentiality also applies in situations other than those where evidence is sought from the lawyer through compulsion of law.

    [3A] “Confidential information” consists of information gained during or relating to the representation of a client, whatever its source, that is (a) protected by the attorney-client privilege, (b) likely to be embarrassing or detrimental to the client if disclosed, or (c) information that the lawyer has agreed to keep confidential. “Confidential information” does not ordinarily include (i) a lawyer’s legal knowledge or legal research or (ii) information that is generally known in the local community or in the trade, field or profession to which the information relates. A lawyer may not disclose confidential information except as authorized or required by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law. See also Scope. Information that is “generally known in the local community or in the trade, field or profession to which the information relates” includes information that is widely known. Information about a client contained in a public record that has received widespread publicity would fall within this category. On the other hand, a client’s disclosure of conviction of a crime in a different state a long time ago or disclosure of a secret marriage would be protected even if a matter of public record because such information was not “generally known in the local community.” As another example, a client’s disclosure of the fact of infidelity to a spouse is protected information, although it normally would not be after the client publicly discloses such information on television and in newspaper interviews.The accumulation of legal knowledge that a lawyer gains through practice ordinarily is not client information protected by this Rule. In addition, the factual information acquired about the structure and operation of an entire industry during the representation of one entity within the industry would not ordinarily prevent an attorney from undertaking a successive representation of another entity in a matter when the attorney had no other relevant confidential information from the earlier representation and there was no other conflict of interest at issue.

    [3B] All these examples explain the addition of the word “confidential” before the word “information” in Rule 1.6(a) as compared to the comparable ABA Model Rule. It also explains the elimination of the words “or is generally known” in Rule 1.9(c)(1) as compared to the comparable ABA Model Rule. The elimination of such information from the concept of protected information in Rule 1.9(c)(1) has been achieved more generally throughout the Rules by the addition of the word “confidential” in this Rule.

    [4] Paragraph (a) prohibits a lawyer from revealing confidential information relating to the representation of a client. This prohibition also applies to disclosures by a lawyer that do not in themselves reveal protected information but could reasonably lead to the discovery of such information by a third person. A lawyer’s use of a hypothetical to discuss issues relating to the representation is permissible so long as there is no reasonable likelihood that the listener will be able to ascertain the identity of the client or the situation involved.

    Authorized Disclosure

    [5] Except to the extent that the client’s instructions or special circumstances limit that authority, a lawyer is impliedly authorized to make disclosures about a client when appropriate in carrying out the representation. In some situations, for example, a lawyer may be impliedly authorized to admit a fact that cannot properly be disputed or to make a disclosure that facilitates a satisfactory conclusion to a matter. Lawyers in a firm may, in the course of the firm’s practice, disclose to each other confidential information relating to a client of the firm, unless the client has instructed that particular confidential information be confined to specified lawyers. Before accepting or continuing representation on such a basis, the lawyers to whom such restricted confidential information will be communicated must assure themselves that the restriction will not contravene firm governance rules or prevent them from discovering disqualifying conflicts of interests.

    Disclosure Adverse to Client

    [6] Although the public interest is usually best served by a strict rule requiring lawyers to preserve the confidentiality of information relating to the representation of their clients, the confidentiality rule is subject to limited exceptions. Paragraph (b)(1) recognizes the overriding value of life and physical integrity and permits disclosure reasonably necessary to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm. Such harm is reasonably certain to occur if it will be suffered imminently or if there is a present and substantial threat that a person will suffer such harm at a later date if the lawyer fails to take action necessary to eliminate the threat.Thus, a lawyer who knows that a client has accidentally discharged toxic waste into a town’s water supply may reveal this information to the authorities, even if the information is confidential information, if there is a present and substantial risk that a person who drinks the water will contract a life-threatening or debilitating disease and the lawyer’s disclosure is necessary to eliminate the threat or reduce the number of victims.

    [6A] The use of the term “substantial” harm or injury in paragraphs (b)(1), (b)(2) and (b)(3) of this Rule restricts permitted revelation by limiting the permission granted to instances when the harm or injury is likely to be more than trivial or small. The reference to bodily harm in paragraph(b)(1) is not meant to require physical injury as a prerequisite. Acts of statutory rape, for example, fall within the concept of bodily harm. Rule 1.6(b)(1) also permits a lawyer to reveal confidential information in the specific situation where such information discloses that an innocent person has been convicted of a crime and has been sentenced to imprisonment or execution. This language has been included to permit disclosure of confidential information in these circumstances where the failure to disclose may not involve the commission of a crime.

    [7] Paragraph (b)(2) is a limited exception to the rule of confidentiality that permits the lawyer to reveal confidential information to the extent necessary to enable affected persons or appropriate authorities to prevent the commission of a crime or fraud that the lawyer reasonably believes is likely both to occur and to result in substantial injury to the interests or property of another. The lawyer should not ignore facts that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that disclosure is permissible. Although paragraph (b)(2) does not require the lawyer to reveal the misconduct, the lawyer may not counsel or assist the client in conduct the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent. See Rule 1.2(d). See also Rule 1.16 with respect to the lawyer’s obligation or right to withdraw from the representation of the client in such circumstances, and Rule 1.13(c),which permits the lawyer, where the client is an organization, to reveal confidential information relating to the representation in limited circumstances.

    [8] Paragraph (b)(3) addresses the situation in which the lawyer does not learn of the client’s crime or fraud until after it has been consummated. Although the client no longer has the option of preventing disclosure by refraining from the wrongful conduct, there will be situations in which the loss suffered by the affected person can be prevented, rectified or mitigated. In such situations, the lawyer may disclose confidential information relating to the representation to the extent necessary to enable the affected persons to prevent or mitigate reasonably certain losses or to attempt to recoup their losses. Paragraph (b)(3) does not apply when a person who has committed a crime or fraud thereafter consults or employs a lawyer for the purpose of representation concerning that offense.

    [8A] Paragraphs (b)(2) and (b)(3) each permit a lawyer to disclose client confidential information under certain circumstances to prevent or ameliorate harm caused by the commission of a crime or fraud. Disclosure is permitted only when the harm constitutes substantial injury to property, financial, or other significant interests of another. The modifier “significant” is added to emphasize that a substantial injury to an insignificant interest is not an adequate basis for disclosure. Unlike the corresponding ABA Model Rule, this rule permits disclosure to prevent or ameliorate harm to non-financial interests as well as to property or financial interests. For example, the kidnapping of a child by anon-custodial parent may result in substantial injury to the vital interest of the other parent in maintaining custody of or even contact with his or her child. A criminal trespasser might invade a significant privacy interest of another. A person by crime or fraud might deprive someone of the right to vote or some other significant right of participation in the political process. These interests are not financial interests, but are sufficiently important that lawyers should have the discretion to disclose client confidential information to prevent or ameliorate crimes and frauds that substantially injure those interests.

    [9] A lawyer’s confidentiality obligations do not preclude a lawyer from securing confidential legal advice about the lawyer’s personal responsibility to comply with these Rules. In most situations, disclosing confidential information to secure such advice will be impliedly authorized for the lawyer to carry out the representation. Even when the disclosure is not impliedly authorized, paragraph (b)(4) permits such disclosure because of the importance of a lawyer’s compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct.

    [10] Where a legal claim or disciplinary charge alleges complicity of the lawyer in a client’s conduct or other misconduct of the lawyer involving representation of the client, the lawyer may respond to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary to establish a defense. The same is true with respect to a claim involving the conduct or representation of a former client. Such a charge can arise in a civil, criminal, disciplinary or other proceeding and can be based on a wrong allegedly committed by the lawyer against the client or on a wrong alleged by a third person, for example, a person claiming to have been defrauded by the lawyer and client acting together. The lawyer’s right to respond arises when an assertion of such complicity has been made. Paragraph (b)(5) does not require the lawyer to await the commencement of an action or proceeding that charges such complicity, so that the defense may be established by responding directly to a third party who has made such an assertion. The right to defend also applies, of course, where a proceeding has been commenced.

    [11] A lawyer entitled to a fee is permitted by paragraph(b)(5) to prove the services rendered in an action to collect it. This aspect of the Rule expresses the principle that the beneficiary of a fiduciary relationship may not exploit it to the detriment of the fiduciary.

    [12] Other law may require that a lawyer disclose confidential information about a client. Whether such a law supersedes Rule 1.6 is a question of law beyond the scope of these Rules. When disclosure of confidential information relating to the representation appears to be required by other law, the lawyer must discuss the matter with the client to the extent required by Rule 1.4. If, however, the other law supersedes this Rule and requires disclosure, paragraph (b)(6) permits the lawyer to make such disclosures as are necessary to comply with the law.

    [13] Paragraph (b)(7) recognizes that lawyers in different firms may need to disclose limited confidential information to each other to detect and resolve conflicts of interest, such as when a lawyer is considering an association with another firm, two or more firms are considering a merger, or a lawyer is considering the purchase of a law practice. See Rule 1.17, Comment 7. Under these circumstances, lawyers and law firms are permitted to disclose limited confidential information, but only once substantive discussions regarding the new relationship have occurred. Any such disclosure should ordinarily include no more than the identity of the persons and entities involved in a matter, a brief summary of the general issues involved, the general extent of the lawyer’s involvement in the matter, and information about whether the matter has terminated. Even this limited confidential information, however, should be disclosed only to the extent reasonably necessary to detect and resolve conflicts of interest that might arise from the possible new relationship. Moreover, the disclosure of any such information is prohibited if it would compromise the attorney-client privilege or otherwise prejudice the client (e.g., the fact that a corporate client is seeking advice on a corporate takeover that has not been publicly announced; that a person has consulted a lawyer about the possibility of divorce before the person’s intentions are known to the person’s spouse; or that a person has consulted a lawyer about a criminal investigation that has not led to a public charge). Under those circumstances, paragraph (a)prohibits disclosure unless the client or former client gives informed consent. A lawyer’s fiduciary duty to the lawyer’s firm may also govern a lawyer’s conduct when exploring an association with another firm and is beyond the scope of these Rules.

    [14] Any information received pursuant to paragraph (b)(7) may be used or further disclosed only to the extent necessary to detect and resolve conflicts of interest. Paragraph (b)(7) does not restrict the use of information acquired by means independent of any disclosure pursuant to paragraph (b)(7). Paragraph (b)(7) also does not affect the disclosure of information within a law firm when the disclosure is otherwise authorized, see Comment 5, such as when a lawyer in a firm discloses confidential information to another lawyer in the same firm to detect and resolve conflicts of interest that could arise in connection with undertaking a new representation. See also Rule 1.16.

    [15] A lawyer may be ordered to reveal confidential information relating to the representation of a client by a court or by another tribunal or governmental entity claiming authority pursuant to other law to compel the disclosure. Absent informed consent of the client to do otherwise,the lawyer should assert on behalf of the client all non-frivolous claims that the order is not authorized by other law or that the confidential information sought is protected against disclosure by the attorney-client privilege or other applicable law. In the event of an adverse ruling, the lawyer must consult with the client about the possibility of appeal to the extent required by Rule 1.4. Unless review is sought, however, paragraph (b)(6) permits the lawyer to comply with the court’s order.

    [16] Paragraph (b) permits disclosure only to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes the disclosure is necessary to accomplish one of the purposes specified. Where practicable, the lawyer should first seek to persuade the client to take suitable action to obviate the need for disclosure. In any case, a disclosure adverse to the client’s interest should be no greater than the lawyer reasonably believes necessary to accomplish the purpose. If the disclosure will be made in connection with a judicial proceeding, the disclosure should be made in a manner that limits access to the confidential information to the tribunal or other persons having a need to know it and appropriate protective orders or other arrangements should be sought by the lawyer to the fullest extent practicable. See also Rule 1.16, Comment 3.

    [17] Paragraph (b) permits but does not require the disclosure of confidential information relating to a client’s representation to accomplish the purposes specified in paragraphs (b)(1) through (b)(7). In exercising the discretion conferred by this Rule, the lawyer may consider such factors as: (1) the seriousness of the potential harm to others; (2) the degree of certainty that the harm will occur,including the attorney’s assessment of the accuracy of the information; (3) the imminence of the harm; (4) the apparent absence of any other feasible way to prevent the potential harm; (5) the extent to which the client may be using or has used the lawyer’s services to bring about the harm, or the lawyer’s own involvement in the transaction; (6) the circumstances under which the lawyer acquired the confidential information, including if the information is protected by the attorney-client privilege; and (7) the nature of the lawyer’s relationship with the client and with those who might be injured by the client. Some of these factors may also be relevant to the exercise of discretion under paragraphs (b)(4) through(b)(7). In any instance, disclosure should be no greater than the lawyer reasonably believes necessary to prevent the harm. A lawyer’s decision not to disclose as permitted by paragraph (b) does not violate this Rule. Disclosure may be required, however, by other Rules. The reference to Rules 3.3, 4.1(b),8.1 and 8.3 in the opening phrase of Rule 1.6(b) has been added to emphasize that Rule 1.6(b) is not the only provision of these Rules that deals with the disclosure of confidential information. Some Rules require disclosure only if such disclosure would be permitted by paragraph (b). See Rules 4.1(b), 8.1 and 8.3. Rule 3.3, on the other hand, requires disclosure in some circumstances regardless of whether such disclosure is permitted by this Rule. See Rule 3.3(c).

    Notice of Disclosure to Client

    [17A] Whenever these Rules permit or require the lawyer to disclose a client’s confidential information, the issue arises whether the lawyer should, as a part of the confidentiality and loyalty obligation and as a matter of competent practice, advise the client beforehand of the plan to disclose. It is not possible to state an absolute rule to govern a lawyer’s conduct in such situations. In some cases, it may be impractical or even dangerous for the lawyer to advise the client of the intent to reveal confidential information either before or even after the fact. Indeed, such revelation might thwart the reason for creation of the exception. It might hasten the commission of a dangerous act by a client or it might enable clients to prevent lawyers from defending themselves against accusations of lawyer misconduct. But there will be instances, such as the intended delivery of whole files to prosecutors to convince them not to indict the lawyer, where the failure to give notice would prevent the client from making timely objection to the revelation of too much confidential information. Lawyers will have to weigh the various factors and make reasonable judgments about the demands of loyalty,the requirements of competent practice, and the policy reasons for creating the exception to confidentiality in order to decide whether they should give advance notice to clients of the intended disclosure.

    Acting Competently to Preserve Confidentiality

    [18] Paragraph (c) requires a lawyer to act competently to safeguard confidential information relating to the representation of a client against unauthorized access by third parties and against inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure by the lawyer or other persons who are participating in the representation of the client or who are subject to the lawyer’s supervision. See Rules 1.1, 5.1 and 5.3. The unauthorized access to, or the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, confidential information relating to the representation of a client does not constitute a violation of paragraph (c) if the lawyer has made reasonable efforts to prevent the access or disclosure. Factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of the lawyer’s efforts include, but are not limited to, the sensitivity of the information, the likelihood of disclosure if additional safeguards are not employed, the cost of employing additional safeguards, the difficulty of implementing the safeguards, and the extent to which the safeguards adversely affect the lawyer’s ability to represent clients (e.g., by making a device or important piece of software excessively difficult to use). A client may require the lawyer to implement special security measures not required by this Rule or may give informed consent to forgo security measures that would otherwise be required by this Rule. Whether a lawyer may be required to take additional steps to safeguard a client’s information in order to comply with other law, such as state and federal laws that govern data privacy or that impose notification requirements upon the loss of, or unauthorized access to, electronic information, is beyond the scope of these Rules. For a lawyer’s duties when sharing information with non-lawyers outside the lawyer’s own firm, see Rule 5.3, Comments 3 and 4.

    [19] When transmitting a communication that includes confidential information relating to the representation of a client, the lawyer must take reasonable precautions to prevent the confidential information from coming into the hands of unintended recipients. This duty, however, does not require that the lawyer use special security measures if the method of communication affords a reasonable expectation of privacy. Special circumstances, however, may warrant special precautions. Factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of the lawyer’s expectation of confidentiality include the sensitivity of the information and the extent to which the privacy of the communication is protected by law or by a confidentiality agreement. A client may require the lawyer to implement special security measures not required by this Rule or may give informed consent to the use of a means of communication that would otherwise be prohibited by this Rule. Whether a lawyer may be required to take additional steps in order to comply with other law, such as state and federal laws that govern data privacy, is beyond the scope of these Rules.

    Former Client

    [20] The duty of confidentiality continues after the client-lawyer relationship has terminated. See Rule 1.9(c)(2). See Rule 1.9(c)(1) for the prohibition against using such information to the disadvantage of the former client.

    *This information is provided as a convenience to the viewers of this material. Viewers should conduct their own research or rely on the advice of a lawyer before relying on the information here.

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