Bar Counsel Notes: Confidentiality
Does client confidentiality under MRPC Rule 1.6(a) extend to a prospective client that leaves a message or voicemail at an attorney’s law office?
Generally, no. That is, there certainly is no per se "guarantee" that any such informational message will or can be so treated by the receiving attorney. Accordingly, it is best practice for attorneys’ message(s) on their telephone voicemails, email inbox, and social media platforms to request that prospective clients ONLY provide their name and contact information without any substantive details at that point. It is further advised that the attorney’s message should also specifically state that any information then provided by a prospective client will not be treated on a confidential basis, thereby warning such persons to not then provide any substantive factual information. Once that limited contact information is received, the attorney’s staff may then respond to the message and request limited information from which to then run an appropriate conflict check. See MRPC Rules 1.6; 1.7; 1.9; and 1.18.
*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.