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.

RPC 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.

Comment

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

[2] Truthful statements that are misleading 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.

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

[5] To assist the public in learning about and obtaining legal services, lawyers should be allowed to make known their services not only through reputation but also through organized information campaigns in the form of advertising. Advertising involves an active quest for clients, contrary to the tradition that a lawyer should not seek clientele. However, the public’s need to know about legal services can be fulfilled in part through advertising. This need is particularly acute in the case of persons of moderate means who have not made extensive use of legal services. The interest in expanding public information about legal services ought to prevail over considerations of tradition. Nevertheless, advertising by lawyers entails the risk of practices that are misleading or overreaching.

[6] This rule permits public dissemination of information concerning a lawyer’s name or firm name, address, e-mail 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.

[7] Questions of effectiveness and taste in advertising are matters of speculation and subjective judgment. Some jurisdictions have had extensive prohibitions against television and other forms of advertising, against advertising going beyond specified facts about a lawyer, or against “undignified” advertising. Television, the Internet, and other forms of electronic communication are now among the most powerful media for getting information to the public, particularly persons of low and moderate income; prohibiting television, Internet, and other forms of electronic 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.

Areas of Expertise/Specialization

[8] A lawyer may 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. A 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 RPC 7.1 to communications concerning a lawyer’s services. A lawyer may 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 state authority or accredited by the American Bar Association or another organization, such as a state bar association, that has been approved by the state authority 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 insure that a lawyer’s recognition as a specialist is meaningful and reliable. In order to insure 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.

[9] In advertising concerning an LLLT’s services, an LLLT is required to communicate the fact that the LLLT has a limited license in the particular fields of law for which the LLLT is licensed and must not state or imply that the LLLT has broader authority to practice than is in fact the case. See LLLT RPC 7.1(b). When lawyers and LLLTs are associated in a firm, lawyers with managerial or pertinent supervisory authority must take measures to assure that the firm’s communications conform with these obligations. See Rule 5.10.

Firm Names

[10] 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 or LLLT not associated with the firm or a predecessor of the firm, or the name of an individual who is neither a lawyer nor an LLLT.

[11] Lawyers or LLLTs sharing office facilities, but who are not in fact associated with each other in a law firm, may not denominate themselves as, for example, “Smith and Jones,” for that title suggests that they are practicing law together in a firm.

[12] When lawyers and LLLTs are associated with each other in a law firm, the firm may be designated using the name of a member LLLT if the name is not otherwise in violation of this rule.

[13] Lawyers or LLLTs practicing out of the same office who are not partners, shareholders of a professional corporation, or members of a professional limited liability company or partnership may not join their names together. Lawyers or LLLTs who are not (1) partners, shareholders of a professional corporation, or members of a professional limited liability company or partnership, or (2) employees of a sole proprietorship, partnership, professional corporation, or members of a professional limited liability company or partnership or other organization, or (3) in the relationship of being “Of Counsel” to a sole proprietorship, partnership, professional corporation, or members of a professional limited liability company or partnership or other organization, must have separate letterheads, cards, and pleading paper, and must sign their names individually at the end of all pleadings and correspondence and not in conjunction with the names of other lawyers or LLLTs.

[14] A law firm with offices in more than one jurisdiction may use the same name or other professional designation in each jurisdiction. See RPC 5.5(f) & cmt. [22]. In order to avoid misleading the public, when lawyers or LLLTs are identified as practicing in a particular office, the firm should indicate the jurisdictional limitations on those not licensed to practice in the jurisdiction where the office is located.

RPC 7.2 [RESERVED.]

RPC 7.3 SOLICITATION OF CLIENTS

(a) A lawyer may solicit professional employment unless:

(1) the solicitation is false or misleading;

(2) the lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the physical, emotional, or mental state of the subject of the solicitation is such that the person could not exercise reasonable judgment in employing a lawyer;

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

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

(b) A lawyer shall not compensate, or give or promise anything of value to, a person who is not an employee or lawyer in the same law firm for the purpose of recommending or securing the services of the lawyer or law firm, except that a lawyer may:

(1) pay the reasonable cost of advertisements or communications permitted by RPC 7.1, including online group advertising;

(2) pay the usual charges of a legal service plan or a not-for-profit lawyer referral service;

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

(4) refer clients to another lawyer or LLLT or other 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;

(5) give nominal gifts that are neither intended nor reasonably expected to be a form of compensation for recommending a lawyer’s services.

(c) [Reserved.]

(d) [Reserved.]

Comments

[1] [Washington revision.] A solicitation is a targeted communication initiated by or on behalf of a lawyer that is directed to a specific person and that offers to provide, or can reasonably be understood as offering to provide, legal services. Solicitations can include in-person, written, telephonic, and electronic communications. 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] [Reserved.]

[3] [Reserved.]

[4] [Reserved.]

[5] [Reserved.]

[6] [Reserved.]

[7] [Reserved.]

[8] [Reserved.]

[9] [Reserved.]

Additional Washington Comments (10-16)

[10] While all communications about a lawyer’s services are subject to the general prohibition against false or misleading communication in RPC 7.1, in-person solicitation can create problems because of the particular circumstances in which the solicitation takes place, and those circumstances are, therefore, appropriately regulated. Subsection (a) of this rule prohibits solicitation in circumstances or through means that are not conducive to intelligent, rational decisions. Unwanted solicitations (after the subject has informed the lawyer not to make contact) or solicitations involving coercion, duress, or harassment are specifically prohibited. Such circumstances and means could be the harassment of early morning or late-night telephone calls to a potential client to solicit legal work, repeated calls at any time of day, solicitation of an accident victim or the victim’s family shortly after the accident or while the victim is still in medical distress (particularly where a lawyer seeks professional employment by in-person or other real-time contact in such circumstances), or solicitation of vulnerable subjects, such as persons facing incarceration, or their family members, in or near a courthouse. The prohibition on solicitation of a subject who cannot “exercise reasonable judgment in employing a lawyer” extends to an individual with diminished capacity who cannot adequately act in the individual’s own interest, and the provisions of RPC 1.14 may provide guidance in evaluating “the physical, emotional, or mental” state of the subject.

[11] Under RPC 5.1, RPC 5.3, and RPC 8.4(a), the solicitation restrictions that apply to the lawyer’s own acts or conduct also extend to acts or conduct by employees, agents, or any third persons acting on the lawyer’s behalf.

[12] Washington has not adopted subsection (e) of the Model Rule creating a safe harbor for in person and telephonic solicitations in the context of a prepaid or group legal services plan because solicitations of professional employment by any means and in all contexts are permitted subject to the exceptions contained in subsection (a)(1) – (4). In addition, prior provisions and comments under RPC 7.3 in Washington relating to in-person, telephonic, or real-time electronic solicitations in the context of referrals from a third party or a lawyer referral service have been removed because solicitations by any means in this context are permitted subject to the exceptions contained in paragraphs (a)(1)–(4) of this RPC.

Paying Others to Recommend a Lawyer

[13] Subsection (b) of this rule was derived from former Washington RPC 7.2(b).

[14] Except as permitted under subsections (b)(1)-(b)(5), lawyers are not permitted to pay others for recommending the lawyer’s services or for channeling professional work in a manner that violates RPC 7.1 or RPC 7.3. A communication contains a recommendation if it endorses or vouches for a lawyer’s credentials, abilities, competence, character, or other professional qualities. Subsection (b)(1), however, allows a lawyer to pay for advertising and solicitations permitted by RPC 7.1 and this rule, including the costs of print directory listings, online 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, and website designers, as long as the employees, agents, and vendors do not direct or regulate the lawyer’s professional judgment (see RPC 5.4(c)). 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 RPC 1.5(e) (division of fees) and 5.4 (professional independence of the lawyer), and the lead generator’s communications are consistent with RPC 7.1 (communications concerning a lawyer’s services). To comply with RPC 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 also RPC 5.3 (duties of lawyers and law firms with respect to the conduct of nonlawyers); RPC 8.4(a) (duty to avoid violating the rules through the acts of another). For the definition of nonlawyer for the purposes of RPC 5.3, see Washington cmt. 5 to Rule 5.3.

[15] A lawyer may pay the usual charges of a legal service plan or a not-for-profit lawyer referral service. 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,” on the other hand, is any individual or entity that operates for the direct or indirect purpose of referring potential clients to lawyers, regardless of whether the term “referral service” is used. The “usual charges” of a legal service plan or not-for-profit lawyer referral service are fees that are openly promulgated and uniformly applied. Not-for-profit 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.

[16] A lawyer also may agree to refer clients to another lawyer or LLLT or other 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 RPC 2.1 and 5.4(c). Except as provided in RPC 1.5(e), a lawyer who receives referrals from a lawyer or LLLT or other nonlawyer professional must not pay anything solely for the referral, but the lawyer does not violate this Rule by agreeing to refer clients to the other lawyer or LLLT or other 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 RPC 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. Under LLLT RPC 1.5(e), however, an LLLT may not enter into an arrangement for the division of a fee with a lawyer who is not in the same firm as the LLLT.

RPC 7.4 COMMUNICATION OF FIELDS OF PRACTICE AND SPECIALIZATION [RESERVED.]

RPC 7.5 FIRM NAMES AND LETTERHEADS [RESERVED]

Rule 1.6 - Confidentiality of Information

(a) A lawyer shall not reveal 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 to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary:

(1) shall reveal information relating to the representation of a client to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm;

(2) may reveal information relating to the representation of a client to prevent the client from committing a crime;

(3) may reveal information relating to the representation of a client 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 a crime or fraud in furtherance of which the client has used the lawyer’s services;

(4) may reveal information relating to the representation of a client to secure legal advice about the lawyer’s compliance with these Rules;

(5) may reveal information relating to the representation of a client 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) may reveal information relating to the representation of a client to comply with a court order;

(7) may reveal information relating to the representation 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; or

(8) may reveal information relating to the representation of a client to inform a tribunal about any client’s breach of fiduciary responsibility when the client is serving as a court appointed fiduciary such as a guardian, personal representative, or receiver.

(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.

[Adopted effective September 1, 1985; Amended effective September 1, 1990; September 1, 2006; September 1, 2016; September 1, 2018.]

Comments

See also Washington Comment [19].

[1] [Washington revision] This Rule governs the disclosure by a lawyer of information relating to the representation of a 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 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] [Washington revision] 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 relating to the representation. See Rule 1.0A(e) 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.

[Comment 2 amended effective April 14, 2015.]

[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 relating to the representation, whatever its source. A lawyer may not disclose such information except as authorized or required by the Rules of Professional Conduct. See also Scope.

[Comment 3 amended effective September 1, 2011.]

[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.

Authorized Disclosure

[5] [Washington revision] 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 information relating to a client of the firm to other lawyers or LLLTs within the firm, unless the client has instructed that particular information be confined to specified lawyers or LLLTs.

[Comment 5 amended effective April 14, 2015.]

Disclosure Adverse to Client

[6] [Washington revision] 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 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] [Reserved.]

[8] [Reserved.]

[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 (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] [Reserved.]

Detection of Conflicts of Interest

[13] [Washington revision] Paragraph (b)(7) 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 RPC 1.17, Comment [7]. 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. See also RPC 1.1, comments [6], [7], and [10] as to decisions to associate other lawyers or LLLTs.

[Comment 13 adopted effective September 1, 2016.]

[14] Any information disclosed 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 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.

[Comment 14 adopted effective September 1, 2016.]

[15] [Washington revision] A lawyer may be ordered to reveal information relating to the representation of a client by a court. Absent informed consent of the client to do otherwise, the lawyer should 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 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.

See also Washington Comment [24].

[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 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.

[17] [Washington revision] Paragraphs (b)(2) through (b)(7) permit but do not require the disclosure of information relating to a client’s representation to accomplish the purposes specified in those paragraphs. In exercising the discretion conferred by those paragraphs, 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 (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), 3.3, 4.1(b), and 8.1. See also Rule 1.13(c), which permits disclosure in some circumstances whether or not Rule 1.6 permits the disclosure.

See also Washington Comment [23].

Acting Competently to Preserve Confidentiality

[18] Paragraph (c) 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 RPC 1.1, 5.1 and 5.3. 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 (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 nonlawyers outside the lawyer’s own firm, see RPC 5.3, Comments [3]-[4].

[Comment 16 renumbered to 18 and amended effective September 1, 2016.]

[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 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.

[Comment 17 renumbered to 19 and amended effective September 1, 2016.]

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.

Additional Washington Comments (21-28)

[21] The phrase “information relating to the representation” should be interpreted broadly. The “information” protected by this Rule includes, but is not necessarily limited to, confidences and secrets. “Confidence” refers to information protected by the attorney client privilege under applicable law, and “secret” refers to other information gained in the professional relationship that the client has requested be held inviolate or the disclosure of which would be embarrassing or would be likely to be detrimental to the client.

Disclosure Adverse to Client

[22] Washington’s Rule 1.6(b)(2), which authorizes disclosure to prevent a client from committing a crime, is significantly broader than the corresponding exception in the Model Rule. While the Model Rule permits a lawyer to reveal information relating to the representation to prevent the client from “committing a crime . . . 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 the lawyer’s services,” Washington’s Rule permits the lawyer to reveal such information to prevent the commission of any crime.

[23] [Reserved.]

[24] [Reserved.]

[25] The exceptions to the general rule prohibiting unauthorized disclosure of information relating to the representation “should not be carelessly invoked.” In re Boelter, 139 Wn.2d 81, 91, 985 P.2d 328 (1999). A lawyer must make every effort practicable to avoid unnecessary disclosure of information relating to a representation, to limit disclosure to those having the need to know it, and to obtain protective orders or make other arrangements minimizing the risk of avoidable disclosure.

[26] Washington has not adopted that portion of Model Rule 1.6(b)(6) permitting a lawyer to reveal information related to the representation to comply with “other law.” Washington’s omission of this phrase arises from a concern that it would authorize the lawyer to decide whether a disclosure is required by “other law,” even though the right to confidentiality and the right to waive confidentiality belong to the client. The decision to waive confidentiality should only be made by a fully informed client after consultation with the client’s lawyer or by a court of competent jurisdiction. Limiting the exception to compliance with a court order protects the client’s interest in maintaining confidentiality while insuring that any determination about the legal necessity of revealing confidential information will be made by a court. It is the need for a judicial resolution of such issues that necessitates the omission of “other law” from this Rule.

Withdrawal

[27] After withdrawal the lawyer is required to refrain from disclosing the client’s confidences, except as otherwise permitted by Rules 1.6 or 1.9. A lawyer is not prohibited from giving notice of the fact of withdrawal by this Rule, Rule 1.8(b), or Rule 1.9(c). If the lawyer’s services will be used by the client in furthering a course of criminal or fraudulent conduct, the lawyer must withdraw. See Rule 1.16(a)(1). Upon withdrawal from the representation in such circumstances, the lawyer may also disaffirm or withdraw any opinion, document, affirmation, or the like. If the client is an organization, the lawyer may be in doubt about whether contemplated conduct will actually be carried out by the organization. When a lawyer requires guidance about compliance with this Rule in connection with an organizational client, the lawyer may proceed under the provisions of Rule 1.13(b).

Other

[28] This Rule does not relieve a lawyer of his or her obligations under Rule 5.4(b) of the Rules for Enforcement of Lawyer Conduct.

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