Bar Counsel Notes: Client Confidentiality Issues
May a respondent attorney offer and testify concerning emails between him and his client to defend against that client's disputed attorney's fee at a hearing before the Fee Arbitration Commission?
Yes. Under MRPC 1.6(b)(5) [Confidentiality of Information], the client's filing of that fee dispute against his attorney gives rise to a permitted exception to the normal confidentiality requirements of Rule 1.6 . As a result, the attorney "may reveal a confidence or secret of a client to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary...to establish a claim or defense on behalf of the lawyer in a controversy between the lawyer and the client...or to respond to allegations in any proceeding concerning the lawyer's representation of the client."
*Disclaimer: The Informal Ethics Advisory Notes from Bar Counsel are intended as outreach by the office of Bar Counsel for the use and benefit of the Maine bar. These scenarios are drawn from actual telephone calls received by the attorneys in the office of Bar Counsel in the course of providing informal advice on the Code of Professional Responsibility, known as Bar Counsel's "Ethics Hotline." The particular advice in each case is limited with reference to the particular factual situation related by the inquiring attorney who must be inquiring about his or her own conduct or the conduct of a member of his or her firm. We do not provide any advice to one attorney about the conduct of another attorney unless they are members of the same law firm. In the telephone opinions, we usually explore and discuss additional factual variables. However, I have attempted to pare down these factual scenarios to make the email newsletter more readable and useful in a general sense. Obviously, that creates the risk that slight variations on the facts, to a learned reader, may give rise to a different analysis and conclusion.