North Carolina 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. Such communications include but are not limited to a statement that is likely to create an unjustified expectation about results the lawyer can achieve; a statement that states or implies that the lawyer can achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law; or a statement that compares the lawyer’s services with other lawyers’ services, unless the comparison can be factually substantiated.

    Comment

    False and Misleading Communications

    [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 truthful statements are also 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 also misleading if there is a substantial likelihood 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.

    Firm Names, Letterheads, and Professional Designations

    [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 principals or by the names of deceased or retired principals where there has been a succession in the firm’s identity. The name of a retired principal may be used in the name of a law firm only if the principal has ceased the practice of law. A lawyer or law firm also may be designated by a trade name, 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 principal 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 or charitable legal services 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(d), because to do so would be false and misleading. It is also misleading to use a designation such as “Smith and Associates” for a solo practice.

    [8] This Rule does not prohibit the employment by a law firm of a lawyer who is licensed to practice in another jurisdiction, but not in North Carolina, provided the lawyer’s practice is exclusively limited to areas that do not require a North Carolina law license. The lawyer’s name may be included in the firm letterhead, provided all communications by such lawyer on behalf of the firm indicate the jurisdiction in which the lawyer is licensed as well as the fact that the lawyer is not licensed in North Carolina.

    [9] If law offices are maintained in another jurisdiction, the law firm is an interstate law firm and must register with the North Carolina State Bar as required by 27 N.C. Admin. Code 1E.0200 et seq.

    Dramatizations

    [10] Dramatizations of fictional cases in video advertisements are potentially misleading. See 2010 FEO 9, RPC 164. A communication by a lawyer that contains a dramatization depicting a fictional situation is not misleading if it complies with paragraph (a) above and contains a conspicuous written or oral statement, at the beginning and the end of the communication, explaining that the communication contains a dramatization and does not depict actual events or real persons.

    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 not compensate, 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 an intermediary organization that complies with Rule 7.4, or a prepaid legal services plan that complies with 27 N.C. Admin. Code 1E.0301 et seq.;

    (3) pay for a law practice in accordance with Rule 1.17; and

    (4) 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) A lawyer shall not state that the lawyer specializes or is a specialist in a field of practice unless:

    (1) the lawyer is certified as a specialist in the field of practice by:

    (A) the North Carolina State Bar;

    (B) an organization that is accredited by the North Carolina State Bar; or

    (C) an organization that is accredited by the American Bar Association under procedures and criteria endorsed by the North Carolina State Bar; and

    (2) the name of the certifying organization is clearly identified in the communication.

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

    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)(4), 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)(4) permits a lawyer 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.

    Paying Lead Generators

    [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).

    Referrals from Intermediary Organizations and Prepaid Legal Service Plans

    [6] A lawyer who accepts assignments or referrals from a prepaid legal service plan or referrals from an intermediary organization must act reasonably to assure that the activities of the plan or organization are compatible with the lawyer’s professional obligations. See Rule 5.3, Rule 7.3, and Rule 7.4. A prepaid legal service plan assists people who seek to secure legal representation. Intermediary organizations, including lawyer referral services, are understood by the public to be consumer-oriented organizations that provide unbiased referrals to lawyers with appropriate experience in the subject matter of the representation and afford other client protections, such as complaint procedures or malpractice insurance requirements. Prepaid legal service plans and intermediary organizations may communicate with the public, but such communication must be in conformity with these Rules; notably, such communication must not be false or misleading.

    Specialty Certification

    [7] The use of the word “specialize” in any of its variant forms connotes to the public a particular expertise often subject to recognition by the state. Indeed, the North Carolina State Bar has instituted programs providing for official certification of specialists in certain areas of practice. 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 are expected to apply standards of experience, knowledge, and proficiency to ensure that a lawyer’s recognition as a specialist is meaningful and reliable. To avoid misrepresentation and deception, a lawyer may not communicate that the lawyer has been recognized or certified as a specialist in a particular field of law, except as provided by this Rule. The Rule requires that a representation of specialty may be made only if the certifying organization is the North Carolina State Bar, an organization accredited by the North Carolina State Bar, or an organization accredited by the American Bar Association under procedures approved by the North Carolina State Bar. To ensure that consumers can obtain access to useful information about an organization granting certification, the name of the certifying organization or agency must be included in any communication regarding the certification.

    [8] A lawyer may, however, describe his or her practice without using the term “specialize” in any manner which is truthful and not misleading. This Rule specifically permits a lawyer to indicate areas of practice in communications about the lawyer’s services. If a lawyer practices only in certain fields, or will not accept matters except in a specified field or fields, the lawyer is permitted to so indicate. The lawyer may, for instance, indicate a “concentration” or an “interest” or a “limitation.”

    Contact Information

    [9] This Rule requires that any communication about a lawyer or law firm’s services include the name of, and contact information for, the lawyer or law firm. Contact information includes a website address, a telephone number, an email address, or a physical office location.

    Rule 7.3 – Direct Contact With Potential Clients

    (a) “Solicitation” or “solicit” denotes a communication initiated by the lawyer that is directed to a specific person and that offers to provide, or can reasonably be understood as offering to provide, legal services.

    (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) person who routinely uses for business purposes the type of legal services offered by the lawyer.

    (c) A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment even when not otherwise prohibited by paragraph (a), if:

    (1) the target of the solicitation has made known to the lawyer a desire not to be solicited by the lawyer; or

    (2) the solicitation involves coercion, duress, or harassment.

    (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 legal service plan in compliance with 27 N.C. Admin. Code 1E.0301 et seq. that uses live person-to-person contact to enroll members or sell subscriptions for the plan to persons who are not known to need legal services in a particular matter covered by the plan, provided that, after reasonable investigation, the lawyer must have a good faith belief that the plan is being operated in compliance with 27 N.C. Admin. Code 1E.0301 et seq., and the lawyer’s participation in the plan does not otherwise violate the Rules of Professional Conduct.

    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] “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 chat rooms, 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 by live person-to-person contact. 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 fully to evaluate all available alternatives with reasoned judgment and appropriate self-interest 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 over-reaching.

    [3] This potential for overreaching inherent in live person-to-person 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 third-party 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] 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 abuse when the person contacted is a lawyer or is known to routinely use the type of legal services involved for business purposes. Examples include persons who routinely hire outside counsel to represent the entity; entrepreneurs who regularly engage business, employment, or intellectual property lawyers; small business proprietors who routinely hire lawyers for lease or contract issues; and other people who routinely retain lawyers for business transactions or formations. Paragraph (a) 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 its members or beneficiaries.

    [6] A solicitation that contains false or misleading information within the meaning of Rule 7.1, which involves coercion, duress, or harassment within the meaning of Rule 7.3(c)(2), or that involves 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) is prohibited.

    Contact to Establish Prepaid Legal Service Plan

    [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 include a notice to potential members of a class in class action litigation.

    Contact to Enroll Members in Prepaid Legal Service Plan

    [9] Paragraph (e) of this Rule permits a lawyer to participate with an organization which 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 also 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 27 N.C. Admin. Code 1E.0301 et seq., as well as Rules 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3(c).

    Rule 7.4 – Intermediary Organizations

    (a) An intermediary organization is a lawyer referral service, lawyer advertising cooperative, lawyer matching service, online marketing platform, or other similar organization that engages in referring consumers of legal services to lawyers or facilitating the creation of lawyer-client relationships between consumers of legal services and lawyers willing to provide assistance. A tribunal or similar government agency that appoints or assigns lawyers to represent parties before the tribunal or government agency is not an intermediary organization under this Rule.

    (b) Before and while participating in an intermediary organization, the lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to ensure that the intermediary organization’s conduct complies with the professional obligations of the lawyer, including the following conditions:

    (1) The intermediary organization does not direct or regulate the lawyer’s professional judgment in rendering legal services to the client;

    (2) The intermediary organization, including its agents and employees, does not engage in improper solicitation pursuant to Rule 7.3;

    (3) The intermediary organization makes the criteria for inclusion available to prospective clients, including any payment made or arranged by the lawyer(s) participating in the service and any fee charged to the client for use of the service, at the outset of the client’s interaction with the intermediary organization;

    (4) The function of the referral arrangement between lawyer and intermediary organization is fully disclosed to the client at the outset of the client’s interaction with the lawyer;

    (5) The intermediary organization does not require the lawyer to pay more than a reasonable sum representing a proportional share of the organization’s administrative and advertising costs, including sums paid in accordance with Rule 5.4(a)(6); and

    (6) The intermediary organization is not owned or directed by the lawyer, a law firm with which the lawyer is associated, or a lawyer with whom the lawyer is associated in a firm.

    (c) If a lawyer discovers an intermediary organization’s noncompliance with Rule 7.4(b)(1) – (6), the lawyer shall either withdraw from participation or seek to correct the noncompliance. If the intermediary organization fails to correct the noncompliance, the lawyer must withdraw from participation.

    Comment

    [1] The term “referral” implies that some attempt is made to match the needs of the prospective client with the qualifications of the recommended lawyer.

    Rule 1.6 – Confidentiality of Information

    (a) A lawyer shall not reveal information acquired during the professional relationship with 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 information protected from disclosure by paragraph (a) to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary:

    (1) to comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct, the law or court order;

    (2) to prevent the commission of a crime by the client;

    (3) to prevent reasonably certain death or bodily harm;

    (4) to prevent, mitigate, or rectify the consequences of a client’s criminal or fraudulent act in the commission of which the lawyer’s services were used;

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

    (6) 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;

    (7) to comply with the rules of a lawyers’ or judges’ assistance program approved by the North Carolina State Bar or the North Carolina Supreme Court; or

    (8) to detect and resolve conflicts of interest arising from the lawyer’s 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, information relating to the representation of a client.

    (d) The duty of confidentiality described in this Rule encompasses information received by a lawyer then acting as an agent of a lawyers’ or judges’ assistance program approved by the North Carolina State Bar or the North Carolina Supreme Court regarding another lawyer or judge seeking assistance or to whom assistance is being offered. For the purposes of this Rule, “client” refers to lawyers seeking assistance from lawyers’ or judges’ assistance programs approved by the North Carolina State Bar or the North Carolina Supreme Court.

    Comment

    [1] This Rule governs the disclosure by a lawyer of information relating to the representation of a client acquired during the lawyer’s representation of the client. See Rule 1.18 for the lawyer’s duties with respect to information provided to the lawyer by a prospective client, Rule 1.9(c)(2) for the lawyer’s duty not to reveal information acquired during a 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 and Rule 8.6 for a lawyer’s duty to disclose information to rectify a wrongful conviction.

    [2] A fundamental principle in the client-lawyer relationship is that, in the absence of the client’s informed consent, the lawyer must not reveal information acquired during 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. Almost without exception, clients come to lawyers in order to determine their rights and what is, in the complex of laws and regulations, deemed to be legal and correct. Based upon experience, lawyers know that almost all clients follow the advice given, and the law is upheld.

    [3] The principle of client-lawyer confidentiality is given effect by related bodies of law: the attorney-client privilege, the work product doctrine and the rule of confidentiality established in professional ethics. 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 applies in situations other than those where evidence is sought from the lawyer through compulsion of law. The confidentiality rule, for example, applies not only to matters communicated in confidence by the client but also to all information acquired during the representation, whatever its source. A lawyer may not disclose such information except as authorized or required by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law. See also Scope.

    [4] Paragraph (a) prohibits a lawyer from revealing information acquired during 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 information relating to a client of the firm, unless the client has instructed that particular information be confined to specified lawyers.

    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 acquired during the representation of their clients, the confidentiality rule is subject to limited exceptions. In becoming privy to information about a client, a lawyer may foresee that the client intends to commit a crime. Paragraph (b)(2) recognizes that a lawyer should be allowed to make a disclosure to avoid sacrificing the interests of the potential victim in favor of preserving the client’s confidences when the client’s purpose is wrongful. Similarly, paragraph (b)(3) 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 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.

    [7] A lawyer may have been innocently involved in past conduct by a client that was criminal or fraudulent. Even if the involvement was innocent, however, the fact remains that the lawyer’s professional services were made the instrument of the client’s crime or fraud. The lawyer, therefore, has a legitimate interest in being able to rectify the consequences of such conduct, and has the professional right, although not a professional duty, to rectify the situation. Exercising that right may require revealing information acquired during the representation. Paragraph (b)(4) gives the lawyer professional discretion to reveal such information to the extent necessary to accomplish rectification.

    [8] Although paragraph (b)(2) does not require the lawyer to reveal the client’s anticipated 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. Where the client is an organization, the lawyer may be in doubt whether contemplated conduct will actually be carried out by the organization. Where necessary to guide conduct in connection with this Rule, the lawyer may make inquiry within the organization as indicated in Rule 1.13(b).

    [9] Paragraph (b)(4) 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 information acquired during 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)(4) does not apply when a person who has committed a crime or fraud thereafter employs a lawyer for representation concerning that offense.

    [10] 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 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)(5) permits such disclosure because of the importance of a lawyer’s compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct.

    [11] 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)(6) 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.

    [12] A lawyer entitled to a fee is permitted by paragraph (b)(6) 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.

    [13] Other law may require that a lawyer disclose 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 information acquired during 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)(1) permits the lawyer to make such disclosures as are necessary to comply with the law.

    [14] Paragraph (b)(1) also permits compliance with a court order requiring a lawyer to disclose information relating to a client’s representation. If a lawyer is called as a witness to give testimony concerning a client or is otherwise ordered to reveal information relating to the client’s representation, however, the lawyer must, absent informed consent of the client to do otherwise, assert on behalf of the client all nonfrivolous claims that the 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. See Rule 1.4. Unless review is sought, however, paragraph (b)(1) permits the lawyer to comply with the court’s order.

    [15] 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 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.

    [16] Paragraph (b) permits but does not require the disclosure of information acquired during 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 the nature of the lawyer’s relationship with the client and with those who might be injured by the client, the lawyer’s own involvement in the transaction and factors that may extenuate the conduct in question. When practical, the lawyer should first seek to persuade the client to take suitable action, making it unnecessary for the lawyer to make any disclosure. 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. Some Rules require disclosure only if such disclosure would be permitted by paragraph (b). See Rules 1.2(d), 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).

    Detection of Conflicts of Interest

    [17] Paragraph (b)(8) recognizes that lawyers in different firms may need to disclose limited 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 [8]. Under these circumstances, lawyers and law firms are permitted to disclose limited 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, and information about whether the matter has terminated. Even this limited 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 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.

    [18] Any information disclosed pursuant to paragraph (b)(8) may be used or further disclosed only to the extent necessary to detect and resolve conflicts of interest. Paragraph (b)(8) does not restrict the use of information acquired by means independent of any disclosure pursuant to paragraph (b)(8). Paragraph (b)(8) also does not affect the disclosure of information within a law firm when the disclosure is otherwise authorized, such as when a lawyer in a firm discloses 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 Comment [5].
    Acting Competently to Preserve Confidentiality

    [19] Paragraph (c) requires a lawyer to act competently to safeguard information acquired during 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, information acquired during the professional relationship with 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 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 nonlawyers outside the lawyer’s own firm, see Rule 5.3, Comments [3]-[4].

    [20] When transmitting a communication that includes information acquired during the representation of a client, the lawyer must take reasonable precautions to prevent the 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 client’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 to comply with other law, such as state and federal laws that govern data privacy, is beyond the scope of these Rules.
    Former Client

    [21] 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.
    Lawyer’s Assistance Program

    [22] Information about a lawyer’s or judge’s misconduct or fitness may be received by a lawyer in the course of that lawyer’s participation in an approved lawyers’ or judges’ assistance program. In that circumstance, providing for the confidentiality of such information encourages lawyers and judges to seek help through such programs. Conversely, without such confidentiality, lawyers and judges may hesitate to seek assistance, which may then result in harm to their professional careers and injury to their clients and the public. The rule, therefore, requires that any information received by a lawyer on behalf of an approved lawyers’ or judges’ assistance program be regarded as confidential and protected from disclosure to the same extent as information received by a lawyer in any conventional client-lawyer relationship.

    *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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