North Dakota Ethics Rules

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 the Services of a Lawyer or Persons Professionally Associated with the Lawyer

A lawyer shall not make a false or misleading communication about the lawyer, a person professionally associated with the lawyer, or their services. A communication is false or misleading if it:

(a) contains a material misrepresentation of fact or law, or omits a fact necessary to make the statement considered as a whole not materially misleading;

(b) is likely to create an unjustified expectation about results the lawyer can achieve, or states or implies that the lawyer can achieve results by means that violate the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law;

(c) compares the lawyer with other lawyers, unless the comparison can be factually substantiated; or

(d) compares the lawyer’s services with other lawyers’ services based on the lawyer having received an honor or accolade, unless:

(1) the name of the comparing organization is stated, and

(2) the basis for the comparison can be substantiated.


[1] This Rule governs communications about a lawyer, a person professionally associated with a lawyer, or their services. The Rule applies to communications about nonlawyers professionally associated with lawyers and their services. See Rule 5.4. The communications covered by this Rule include advertising permitted by Rule 7.2. Whatever means are used to make known a lawyer’s services, statements about them must be truthful.

[2] An advertisement 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 comparison of the lawyer’s services or fees with the services or fees of other lawyers may be misleading, if presented with such specificity as would lead a reasonable person to conclude that the comparison can be substantiated. A truthful communication that the lawyer has received an honor or accolade is not misleading or impermissibly comparative for purposes of this Rule if: (1) the comparing organization has made inquiry into the lawyer’s fitness, (2) the comparing organization does not issue the honor or accolade for a price, and (3) a truthful, plain language description of the standard or methodology upon which the honor or accolade is based is available for inspection either as part of the communication itself or by reference to a convenient, publicly available source.

[3] When a communication becomes inaccurate because of a change of circumstances, a lawyer has the responsibility to make every reasonable effort to make the information accurate as quickly as feasible under the circumstances. Subsequently occurring misrepresentations in a published annual directory may continue for a year without the lawyer having the ability to amend the material. In such cases, lawyers should take steps to otherwise communicate the changes to potential clients. However, information conveyed via other media, such as an Internet web site, can be changed quickly and it is the lawyer’s responsibility to do so.

[4] Technology may allow use of information that is not readily apparent within a commercial communication. For example, Internet sites may include devices to facilitate an Internet search for a site or topic, such as legal services. A lawyer must avoid the use of any information that is not seen, for example meta-tags or similar devices, if that information would be inappropriate under these rules if it were seen.

[5] See also Rule 8.4(c) for the prohibition against stating or implying an ability to influence improperly a government agency or official.

Rule 7.2 – Advertising

(a) Subject to the requirements of Rule 7.1 and 7.3, a lawyer may market and advertise legal services through media, including published and on-line directories; newspapers, newsletters and other periodicals; outdoor advertising; electronic advertising, including radio, television, video and the Internet; and through text-based written and electronic communications.

(b) Any communication made pursuant to this Rule must include the name and office address of at least one lawyer or law firm responsible for its contents.

(c) A lawyer shall not give 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 not-for-profit lawyer referral service or legal service organization; and

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


[1] To assist the public in learning about and obtaining legal services, lawyers should be allowed to provide information about their services through various forms of marketing and advertising. The public’s need to gain information about legal services can be fulfilled in part through marketing and advertising methods. These methods engage traditional media such as the Yellow Pages, newspapers and television, as well as electronic technologies. Although information about legal services can benefit all types of clients, the need for information is particularly acute among clients who may be unfamiliar with legal services. While the need for information justifies the use of advertising, it, at the same time, increases the risk of misleading or overreaching endeavors.

[2] Television is now one of the most powerful media for getting information to the public; prohibiting television advertising, therefore, would impede the flow of information about legal services to many sectors of the public. Limiting the information that may be advertised has a similar effect and assumes that the bar can accurately forecast the kind of information that the public would regard as relevant. Similarly, electronic media, such as the Internet, can be an important source of information about legal services, and lawful communication by electronic mail is permitted by this Rule. But see Rule 7.3(a) for the prohibition against the solicitation of anyone known to be in need of legal services in a particular matter through a real-time electronic exchange that is not initiated by the person.

[3] Neither this Rule nor Rule 7.3 prohibits communications authorized by law, such as notice to members of a class in class action litigation.

Paying Others to Recommend a Lawyer

[4] A lawyer is allowed to pay for advertising permitted by this Rule and for the purchase of a law practice in accordance with the provisions of Rule 1.17, but otherwise is not permitted to pay another person for recommending the lawyer’s services or for channeling professional work in a manner trhat violates Rule 7.3. A communication contains a recommendation if it endorses or vouches for a lawyer’s credentials, abilities, competence, character, or other professional qualities. Moreover, 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. This restriction does not prevent an organization or person other than the lawyer from advertising or recommending the lawyer’s services. Thus, a legal aid agency or prepaid legal services plan may pay to advertise legal services provided under its auspices. Likewise, a lawyer may participate in not-for-profit lawyer referral programs and pay the usual fees charged by such programs. Paragraph (c) does not prohibit paying regular compensation to an assistant, such as a secretary, to prepare communications permitted by this Rule.

Rule 7.3 – Solicitation of Clients

(a) A lawyer, or the lawyer’s representative, shall not by in-person or telephone contact, or other real-time contact, solicit professional employment from anyone known to be in need of legal services in a particular matter when a significant motive for the solicitation is the lawyer’s pecuniary gain unless the person contacted:

(1) is a lawyer; or

(2) has a family, personal, or prior professional relationship with the lawyer.

(b) A lawyer shall not solicit professional employment by written, recorded , or electronic communication or by in-person, telephone, or real-time contact 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;

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

(3) the receipt of the solicitation is uninvited and imposes any involuntary economic cost on the prospective client to respond to the solicitation.

(c) Notwithstanding the prohibitions in paragraph (a), a lawyer may participate with a prepaid or group legal service plan operated by an organization not owned or directed by the lawyer which uses in-person or telephone contact to solicit memberships or subscriptions for the plan from persons who are not known to need legal services in a particular matter covered by the plan.


[1] A solicitation is a targeted 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. In contrast, a lawyer’s communication typically does not constitute 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 Internet searches.

[2] The lawyer is a trained advocate and the client in need of legal services may be emotionally vulnerable. As a result, a person in need of legal services, who may be 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 in the lawyer’s presence and insistence upon immediate retention. Such a situation is fraught with the possibility of undue influence, intimidation, unaccountable misrepresentation and over-reaching.

[3] Other forms of solicitation are permissible under these rules, offering lawyers alternative means of conveying necessary information to those who may be in need of legal services. Advertising may be communicated via virtually any type of media. Materials may be mailed to in most circumstances and the Internet is available for lawyers to present a vast array of credentials in an affordable way, without subjecting a person known to be in need of legal services to persuasion that may overwhelm the person’s judgment.

[4] Additionally, the contents of advertising and other non-direct communications permitted in these rules can be permanently recorded so that they cannot be disputed. This potential for informal review is itself likely to help guard against statements and claims that might constitute false or misleading communications in violation of Rule 7.1. The contents of direct communications between a lawyer and a person known to be in need of legal services can be disputed and are not subject to verification and the protection that can derive from a record. Consequently, the direct communication is more likely to approach the line between accurate representations and those that are false or misleading.

[5] There are several circumstances in which direct communications with prospective clients are permitted including when the prospective client is a lawyer, a family member, a current or prior client or where the lawyer accepts the case without any pecuniary gain.

[6] Any solicitation that contains information that is unlawful or is false or misleading within the meaning of Rule 7.1 is prohibited. Additionally, any solicitation that involves contact with a person who has indicated a desire to the lawyer not to be solicited, any solicitation that involves coercion, duress or harassment, or any solicitation that imposes any involuntary economic cost are all impermissible under this rule. If after sending a letter or other communication to a a person known to be in need of legal services in a manner that is permissible by these rules, a lawyer receives no response, any further effort to communicate with the person may be deemed harassment under this rule. Likewise, multiple uninvited e-mail messages could fall under this category.

[7] Paragraph (c) of this Rule permits a lawyer to participate with an organization that uses personal contact to solicit 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 referred to in paragraph (c) must not be owned by or directed (whether as manager or otherwise) by any lawyer of law firm that participates in the plan. For example, paragraph (c) would not permit a lawyer to create an organization controlled directly or indirectly by the lawyer and use the organization for direct solicitation of legal employment of the lawyer through memberships in the plan or otherwise. The communication permitted by these organizations must also not be directed to a person known to need legal services in a particular matter, but is to 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 the other rules governing communications concerning the services of a lawyer.

Rule 7.4 – Communication of Fields of Practice

A lawyer may communicate the fact that the lawyer does or does not practice in particular fields of law. A lawyer shall not state or imply that the lawyer is a specialist in a particular field of law except as follows:

(a) a lawyer admitted to engage in patent practice before the United States Patent and Trademark Office may use the designation “patent attorney” or a substantially similar designation;

(b) a lawyer engaged in admiralty practice may use the designation “admiralty,” “proctor in admiralty,” or a substantially similar designation; or

(c) a lawyer may communicate the fact that the lawyer has been certified as a specialist in a field of law by a named organization, provided that the communication clearly states the name of the certifying organization and that there is no procedure in this jurisdiction for approving certifying organizations. The communication need not contain such a statement if the named organization has been accredited by the American Bar Association or the lawyer has successfully completed a certification program sponsored by a state bar association.


[1] This Rule 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 such fields, the lawyer is permitted to so indicate. The lawyer is generally permitted to state that the lawyer is a “specialist,” practices a “specialty,” or “specializes in” particular fields, but such communications are subject to the “false and misleading” standard applied in Rule 7.1 to communications concerning a lawyer’s services.

[2] However, 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. Recognition of specialization in patent matters is a matter of long-established policy of the Patent and Trademark Office, as reflected in paragraph (a). Paragraph (b) recognizes that designation of admiralty practice has a long historical tradition associated with maritime commerce and the federal courts.

[3] 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. In order 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 certification.

Rule 7.5 – Firm Names and Letterheads

(a) A lawyer shall not use a firm name, letterhead or other professional designation that violates Rule 7.1. A trade name may be used by a lawyer in private practice if it does not imply a connection with a government agency or with a public or charitable legal services organization and is not otherwise in violation of Rule 7.1.

(b) 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.

(c) The name of a lawyer holding a public office shall not be used in the name of a law firm, or in communications on its behalf, during any substantial period in which the lawyer is not actively and regularly practicing with the firm.

(d) Lawyers may state or imply that they practice in a partnership or other organization only when that is the fact.

(e) A lawyer may identify legal assistants on the lawyer’s letterhead and on business cards identifying the lawyer’s firm, provided the legal assistant’s status is clearly identified.


[1] A firm may be designated by the names of all or some of its members, by the names of deceased members where there has been a continuing succession in the firm’s identity or by a trade name such as the “ABC Legal Clinic.” A lawyer or law firm may also be designated by a distinctive website address or comparable professional designation. Although the United States Supreme Court has held that legislation may prohibit the use of trade names in professional practice, use of such names in law practice is acceptable so long as it is not misleading. If a private firm uses a trade name that includes a geographical name such as “Springfield Legal Clinic,” an express disclaimer that it is a public legal aid agency may be required to avoid a misleading implication. It may be observed that any firm name including the name of a deceased partner is, strictly speaking, a trade name. The use of such names to designate law firms has proven a useful means of identification. However, it is misleading to use the name of a lawyer not associated with the firm or a predecessor of the firm.

[2] With regard to paragraph (d), lawyers sharing office facilities, but who are not in fact partners, may not denominate themselves as, for example, “Smith and Jones” for that title suggests partnership in the practice of law.

[3] To comply with paragraph (e), a firm identifying the name and title of a legal assistant on letterheads or business cards must accurately and clearly identify the legal assistant’s status.

Rule 1.6 – Confidentiality of Information

(a) A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to the representation of the client unless the client consents, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation, or the disclosure is required by paragraph (b) or permitted by paragraph (c). The duty of confidentiality continues after the lawyer-client relationship has terminated.

(b) A lawyer is required to reveal information relating to the representation of a client to the extent the lawyer believes reasonably necessary to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm.

(c) A lawyer may reveal information relating to the representation of a client to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary:

(1) to prevent the client from committing a crime or fraud that is reasonably certain to result in substantial injury to the financial interests or property of another and in furtherance of which the client has used or is using the lawyer’s services;

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

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

(4) 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;

(5) to comply with other law or a court order; or

(6) 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.

(d) 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.


[1] This Rule governs the disclosure by a lawyer of information relating to the representation of a client during and after 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 potential client and Rules 1.8(b) and 1.9(c) 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 the lawyer must not reveal information relating to the representation without the client’s consent. While it is not a requirement, it is a preferable practice to obtain the client’s consent in writing when consent is given. 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] This principle of lawyer-client confidentiality is given effect by related law, such as 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 lawyer-client confidentiality applies in situations other than those where evidence is sought from the lawyer through compulsion of law. This rule applies not merely to matters communicated in confidence by the client but also to all information relating to the representation, whatever its source. A lawyer may not disclose such information except as authorized or required by these Rules or other law.

[4] Paragraph (a) prohibits a lawyer from revealing 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.

Impliedly 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 relating to the representation of their clients, the confidentiality rule is subject to limited exceptions. Paragraph (b) recognizes the overriding value of life and physical integrity and requires 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 must 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] Paragraph (c)(1) is a limited exception to the rule of confidentiality that permits the lawyer to reveal information to the extent necessary to enable affected persons or appropriate authorities to prevent the client from committing a crime or fraud, as defined in Rule 1.0(e), that is reasonably certain to result in substantial injury to the financial or property interests of another and in furtherance of which the client has used or is using the lawyer’s services. Such a serious abuse of the client-lawyer relationship by the client forfeits the protection of this Rule. The client can, of course, prevent such disclosure by refraining from the wrongful conduct. Although paragraph (c)(1) does not require the lawyer to reveal the client’s 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 information relating to the representation in limited circumstances.

[8] Paragraph (c)(2) 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 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 (c)(2) does not apply when a person who has committed a crime or fraud thereafter employs a lawyer for representation concerning that offense.

Disclosure to Secure Compliance Advice

[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 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 (c)(3) permits such disclosure because of the importance of a lawyer’s compliance with these Rules.

Disclosure in Controversies Regarding the Lawyer’s 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 (c)(4) 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 (c)(4) 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.

Disclosure Required by Law or Court Order

[12] When disclosure of 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 the other law requires disclosure, paragraph (c)(5) permits the lawyer to make such disclosures as are necessary to comply with the law.

[13] A lawyer may be ordered to reveal 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 the client’s written consent to do otherwise, the lawyer should assert on behalf of the client all nonfrivolous claims that the order is not authorized by other law or 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 to the extent required by Rule 1.4. Unless review is sought, however, paragraph (c)(5) permits the lawyer to comply with the court’s order.

Limits of Extent of Disclosure

[14] Paragraph (b) requires and paragraph (c) 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.

[15] Paragraph (c) permits but does not require the disclosure of information relating to a client’s representation to accomplish the purposes specified in paragraphs (c)(1) through (c)(5). 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. A lawyer’s decision not to disclose as permitted by paragraph (c) 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 (c). See Rules 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.

Detection of Conflicts of Interest

[16] Paragraph (c)(6) 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 [6]. 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.

[17] Any information disclosed pursuant to paragraph (c)(6) may be used or further disclosed only to the extent necessary to detect and resolve conflicts of interest. Paragraph (c)(6) does not restrict the use of information acquired by means independent of any disclosure pursuant to paragraph (c)(6). Paragraph (c)(6) 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 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.

Acting Competently to Preserve Confidentiality

[18] Paragraph (d) requires a lawyer to act competently to safeguard 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 5.1, 5.3 and 8.4(a). The unauthorized access to, or the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, information relating to the representation of a client does not constitute a violation of paragraph (d) 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 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 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 nonlawyers outside the lawyer’s own firm, see Rule 5.3, Comments [7]-[8].

[19] When transmitting a communication that includes information relating to 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 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 written consent to the use of a means of communication that would otherwise be prohibited by this Rule.

Lawyer Copying of Items Related to Representation

[20] For the lawyer’s own purposes, including facilitation of any revelation that might be permitted by paragraph (c), a lawyer is permitted to make copies of items in a file. The lawyer may charge the client for this copying only if allowed by Rule 1.19. The protection of this Rule, and the circumstances in which revelation is required or permitted, are applicable to the lawyer’s copy or copies.

Use of Confidential Information to the Disadvantage of Client or Former Client

[21] Use by the lawyer of confidential information to the disadvantage of a client or former client is governed by Rules 1.8(b) and 1.9.

*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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