Changes to the Rules of Professional Conduct Regarding Client Confidentiality

Amy, a white woman with reddish-brown hair and bangs, wears a black blouse.By Amy Richardson 

The Supreme Court of North Carolina recently approved amendments to Rules of Professional Conduct 1.6 (Confidentiality of Information) and 1.9 (Duties to Former Clients). The amendments permit a lawyer to disclose information acquired during the representation of a former client if the information is contained in the public record and disclosure is not detrimental to the client. Prior to these amendments, an attorney was not allowed to disclose such information unless she had informed consent from the client.

In addition, the North Carolina Bar Council adopted and approved for transmission to the Supreme Court proposed amendments to Rule 1.15 and Rule 4.1. The proposed amendment to Rule 4.1 makes a technical correction to the language in the comment. The proposed amendments to Rule 1.15 contain new definitions of common ledgers used in monitoring a lawyer’s trust account and rearrange some parts of the rule for improved understanding and application. The Supreme Court has not yet acted on these amendments.

The Ethics Committee also created a new subcommittee to study a possible amendment to Rule 1.8(e) that would create an exception to the prohibition on providing financial assistance to a client in connection with pending or contemplating litigation. The ABA recently amended Model Rule 1.8(e) by creating a “humanitarian exception” that permits a lawyer to provide nominal financial gifts to indigent clients under certain circumstances. The new Model Rule permits a lawyer, a nonprofit legal services organization, or a law school clinic program to provide “modest gifts” to a client for basic living expenses provided that a) the client is indigent, and b) the representation is pro bono. A lawyer acting under this new exception is prohibited from advertising or publicizing the ability to make such gifts, is prohibited from stating or implying the availability of a gift as an inducement to secure representation, and is prohibited from seeking or accepting reimbursement of the gift from the client or anyone affiliated with the client.