Bar Counsel Notes: Fee and Confidentiality Issues
Client C has done a "charge back" on her credit card payment of Attorney A's fee charges on her divorce case. The credit card company has now requested an explanation from A about that matter. Attorney A plans to simply rebut C's allegations and reveal nothing more about the representation. Is that limited conduct allowed?
Answer: Yes because MRPC Rule 1.6(b)(5) provides a waiver or exception to a client's normally protected "confidentiality of information" when the client has initiated a controversy against her attorney as occurred in this instance. As a result, A is allowed to defend himself or assert a claim when a client (C) has initiated the controversy against the attorney, as she did in this instance. It is best, however, to take a cautious approach and limit the amount of substantive information disclosed as being only that portion necessary to generally refute and contest the stated claim(s).
*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.