What are an attorney's duties as they relate to confidentiality of client information?

When an individual retains the services of an attorney to represent them in any type of legal matter, there's always the distinct possibility that they may be initially reluctant to share everything they know given that the subject matter is embarrassing or even potentially damaging in nature.

While this is understandable, it's important for the client to understand -- and the attorney to explain -- that Rule 4-1.6(a) of the Florida Rules of Professional Conduct indicates that absent informed consent, they must keep all information relating to the representation confidential. 

This rule exists not just to encourage people to seek representation and engage in meaningful conversations with their attorney, but also to enable attorneys to provide effective representation and advise clients to avoid wrongful conduct.

All this naturally begs the question as to whether there are any scenarios in which an attorney is otherwise required to reveal confidential client information or has the option of doing so.

Confidential information that must be revealed

Rule 4-1.6(b) dictates that an attorney is obligated to reveal confidential client information to the extent that he or she believes reasonably necessary to either 1) prevent the client from committing a criminal offense, or 2) prevent substantial bodily harm or the death of another.

Confidential information that may be revealed

Rule 4-1.6(c) dictates that an attorney is free to reveal confidential client information to the extent that he or she believes reasonably necessary in order to do any of the following:

  • Serve the client's interest (unless the client specifically dictated that the information in question remain confidential)
  • Establish a defense or pursue a claim on behalf of the attorney in a legal matter between the attorney and the client
  • Establish a defense to civil claim or criminal charge against the attorney stemming from conduct involving the client
  • Respond to allegations in any legal proceedings involving the attorney's representation of the client
  • Comply with the Rules of Professional Conduct
  • Identify and address conflicts of interests among attorneys in different firms that arise from a change in the attorney's employment or composition/ownership of a law firm (provided it would not result in a violation of the attorney-client privilege or otherwise serve to prejudice the client)

We'll continue discussing more about the extent to which attorneys must keep all information relating to client representation confidential in future posts.

In the meantime, consider speaking with a skilled legal professional if you have reason to believe that you've been victimized by some form of legal malpractice.

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