Bar Counsel Notes: Exception to Client Confidentiality

Lawyer believes an out of state scam artist masquerading as a client retained him for a fictitious sale of a vintage auto. They spoke on the telephone and then the person sent Lawyer a sizable check to be deposited in Lawyer's trust account. Lawyer became suspicious and called the bank and the Clerk for the buyer's corporation to obtain more information about the transaction. Lawyer learned the "client's" bank account does not exist and other facts have convinced Lawyer that the proposed sale is a fraud. Can Lawyer contact the FBI or does MRPC 1.6 prevent him from doing so?

No, MRPC 1.6(b)(3) allows Lawyer to disclose the fraud/scam to the federal government. Furthermore, because it was never a true client/attorney relationship, the "notice" provision of MRPC 1.6(c) doesn't really apply-since the alleged client attempted to utilize Lawyer's professional services to commit fraud. Accordingly, Lawyer may contact federal government agency IC3 which Bar Counsel understands is the lead law enforcement agency dealing with internet scams.

*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.