Is an attorney legally bound to report a client to the proper authorities if the client is threatening to hurt himself or another person, as a mental health professional is bound?
1 Answer from Attorneys
The attorney has to consult his or her rules of professional conduct and it will have to be a judgment call. If the attorney felt that there really was a threat of harm, then the attorney will have to be the judge whether to report the client or not. See Rule 1.6 in PA:
Rule 1.6. Confidentiality of Information.
(a) A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, except for disclosures that are impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation, and except as stated in paragraphs (b) and (c).
(b) A lawyer shall reveal such information if necessary to comply with the duties stated in Rule 3.3.
(c) A lawyer may reveal such information to the extent that the lawyer reasonably believes necessary:
(1) to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm;
(2) to prevent the client from committing a criminal act that the lawyer believes is likely to result in substantial injury to the financial interests or property of another;
(3) to prevent, mitigate or rectify the consequences of a client’s criminal or fraudulent act in the commission of which the lawyer’s services are being or had been used; or
(4) to establish a claim or defense on behalf of the lawyer in a controversy between the lawyer and the client, to establish a defense to a criminal charge or civil claim or disciplinary proceeding against the lawyer based upon conduct in which the client was involved, or to respond to allegations in any proceeding concerning the lawyer’s representation of the client; or
(5) to secure legal advice about the lawyer’s compliance with these Rules; or
(6) to effectuate the sale of a law practice consistent with Rule 1.17.
(d) The duty not to reveal information relating to representation of a client continues after the client-lawyer relationship has terminated.
(1) This Rule governs the disclosure by a lawyer of information relating to the representation of a client during the lawyer’s representation of the client. See Rule 1.18 for the lawyer’s duties with respect to information provided to the lawyer by a prospective client, Rule 1.9(c)(2) for the lawyer’s duty not to reveal information relating to the lawyer’s prior representation of a former client and Rules 1.8(b) and 1.9(c)(1) for the lawyer’s duties with respect to the use of such information to the disadvantage of clients and former clients.
(2) A fundamental principle in the client-lawyer relationship is that, in the absence of the client’s informed consent, the lawyer must not reveal information relating to the representation. See Rule 1.0(e) for the definition of informed consent. This contributes to the trust that is the hallmark of the client-lawyer relationship. The client is thereby encouraged to seek legal assistance and to communi-cate fully and frankly with the lawyer even as to embarrassing or legally damaging subject matter. The lawyer needs this information to represent the client effectively and, if necessary, to advise the client to refrain from wrongful conduct. Almost without exception, clients come to lawyers in order to determine their rights and what is, in the complex of laws and regulations, deemed to be legal and correct. Based upon experience, lawyers know that almost all clients follow the advice given, and the law is upheld.
(3) The principle of client-lawyer confidentiality is given effect by related bodies of law: the attorney-client privilege, the work product doctrine and the rule of confidentiality established in professional ethics. The attorney-client privilege and work-product doctrine apply in judicial and other proceedings in which a lawyer may be called as a witness or otherwise required to produce evidence concerning a client. The rule of client-lawyer confidentiality applies in situations other than those where evidence is sought from the lawyer through compulsion of law. The confidentiality rule, for example, applies not only to matters communicated in confidence by the client but also to all information relating to the representation, whatever its source. A lawyer may not disclose such information except as authorized or required by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law. See also Scope.
(4) Paragraph (a) prohibits a lawyer from revealing information relating to the representation of a client. This prohibition also applies to disclosures by a lawyer that do not in themselves reveal protected information but could reasonably lead to the discovery of such information by a third person. A lawyer’s use of a hypothetical to discuss issues relating to the representation is permissible so long as there is no reasonable likelihood that the listener will be able to ascertain the identity of the client or the situation involved.
(5) A lawyer has duties of disclosure to a tribunal under Rule 3.3(a) that may entail disclosure of information relating to the representation. Rule 1.6(b) recognizes the paramount nature of this obligation.
(6) Except to the extent that the client’s instructions or special circumstances limit that authority, a lawyer is impliedly authorized to make disclosures about a client when appropriate in carrying out the representation . In some situations, for example, a lawyer may be impliedly authorized to admit a fact that cannot properly be disputed or to make a disclosure that facilitates a satisfactory conclusion to a matter. Lawyers in a firm may, in the course of the firm’s practice, disclose to each other information relating to a client of the firm, unless the client has instructed that particular information be confined to specified lawyers.
Disclosure Adverse to Client
(7) Although the public interest is usually best served by a strict rule requiring lawyers to preserve the confidentiality of information relating to the representation of their clients, the confidentiality rule is subject to limited exceptions. In becoming privy to information about a client, a lawyer may foresee that the client intends or learn that the client has caused serious harm to another person. However, to the extent that a lawyer is required or permitted to disclose a client’s purposes or conduct, the client may be inhibited from revealing facts that would enable the lawyer effectively to represent the client. Generally, the public interest is better served if full disclosure by clients to their lawyers is encouraged rather than inhibited. With limited exceptions, information relating to the representation must be kept confidential by a lawyer, as stated in paragraph (a).
(8) Where human life is threatened, the client is or has been engaged in criminal or fraudulent conduct, or the integrity of the lawyer’s own conduct is involved, the principle of confidentiality may have to yield, depending on the lawyer’s knowledge about and relationship to the conduct in question.
(9) Several situations must be distinguished:
(10) First, a lawyer may foresee certain death or serious bodily harm to another person. Paragraph (c)(1) recognizes the overriding value of life and physical integrity and permits disclosure reasonably necessary to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm. Such harm is reasonably certain to occur if it will be suffered imminently or there is a present and substantial threat that a person will suffer such harm at a later date if the lawyer fails to take action necessary to eliminate the threat. Thus, a lawyer who knows that a client has accidentally discharged toxic waste into a town’s water supply may reveal this information to the authorities if there is a present and substantial risk that a person who drinks the water will contract a life-threatening or debilitating disease and that the lawyer’s disclosure is necessary to eliminate the threat or reduce the number of victims.
(11) Second, paragraph (c)(2) is a limited exception to the rule of confidentiality that permits the lawyer to reveal information to the extent necessary to enable affected persons or appropriate authorities to prevent the client from committing a crime that is reasonably certain to result in substantial injury to the financial or property interests of another. Disclosure is permitted under paragraph (c)(2) only where the lawyer reasonably believes that such threatened action is a crime; the lawyer may not substitute his or her own sense of wrongdoing for that of society at large as reflected in the applicable criminal laws. The client can, of course, prevent such disclosure by refraining from the wrongful conduct.
(12) Third, a lawyer may not counsel or assist a client in conduct that is criminal or fraudulent. See Rule 1.2(d). To avoid assisting a client’s criminal or fraudulent conduct, the lawyer may have to reveal information relating to the representation. Rule 1.6(c)[(2)](3) permits doing so.
(13) Fourth, a lawyer may have been innocently involved in past conduct by a client that was criminal or fraudulent. In such a situation, the lawyer did not violate Rule 1.2(d). However, if the lawyer’s services were made an instrument of the client’s crime or fraud, the lawyer has a legitimate and overriding interest in being able to rectify the consequences of such conduct. Rule 1.6(c)(3) gives the lawyer professional discretion to reveal information relating to the representation to the extent necessary to accomplish rectification.
(14) Fifth, where a legal claim or disciplinary charge alleges complicity of the lawyer in a client’s conduct or other misconduct of the lawyer involving representation of the client, the lawyer may respond to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary to establish a defense. The same is true with respect to a claim involving the conduct or representation of a former client. Such a charge can arise in a civil, criminal, disciplinary or other proceeding and can be based on a wrong allegedly committed by the lawyer against the client or on a wrong alleged by a third person; for example, a person claiming to have been defrauded by the lawyer and client acting together. If the lawyer is charged with wrongdoing in which the client’s conduct is implicated, the rule of confidentiality should not prevent the lawyer from defending against the charge. The lawyer’s right to respond arises when an assertion of such complicity has been made. Paragraph (c)(4) does not require the lawyer to await the commencement of an action or proceeding that charges such complicity, so that the defense may be established by responding directly to a third party who has made such an assertion. The right to defend also applies, of course, where a proceeding has been commenced.
(15) Sixth, a lawyer entitled to a fee is permitted by paragraph (c)(4) to prove the services rendered in an action to collect it. This aspect of the Rule expresses the principle that the beneficiary of a fiduciary relationship may not exploit it to the detriment of the fiduciary.
(16) Seventh, a lawyer’s confidentiality obligations do not preclude a lawyer from securing confidential legal advice about the lawyer’s personal responsibility to comply with these Rules. In most situations, disclosing information to secure such advice will be impliedly authorized for the lawyer to carry out the representation. Even when the disclosure is not impliedly authorized, paragraph (c)(5) permits such disclosure because of the importance of a lawyer’s compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct.
(17) Eighth, it is recognized that the due diligence associated with the sale of a law practice authorized under Rule 1.17 may necessitate the limited disclosure of certain otherwise confidential information. Paragraph (c)(6) permits such disclosure. However, as stated above, the lawyer must make every effort practicable to avoid unnecessary disclosure of information relating to a representation, to limit disclosure to those having a need to know it, and to obtain appropriate arrangements minimizing the risk of disclosure.
(18) Other law may require that a lawyer disclose information about a client. Whether such a law supersedes Rule 1.6 is a question of law beyond the scope of these Rules. When disclosure of information relating to the representation appears to be required by other law, the lawyer must discuss the matter with the client to the extent required by Rule 1.4.
(19) A lawyer may be ordered to reveal information relating to the representation of a client by a court or by another tribunal or governmental entity claiming authority pursuant to other law to compel the disclosure. Absent informed consent of the client to do otherwise, the lawyer should assert on behalf of the client all nonfrivolous claims that the order is not authorized by other law or that the information sought is protected against disclosure by the attorney-client privilege or other applicable law. In the event of an adverse ruling, the lawyer must consult with the client about the possibility of appeal to the extent required by Rule 1.4.
(20) Paragraph (c) permits disclosure only to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes the disclosure is necessary to accomplish one of the purposes specified. Where practicable, the lawyer should first seek to persuade the client to take suitable action to obviate the need for disclosure. In any case, a disclosure adverse to the client’s interest should be no greater than the lawyer reasonably believes necessary to accomplish the purpose. If the disclosure will be made in connection with a judicial proceeding, the disclosure should be made in a manner that limits access to the information to the tribunal or other persons having a need to know it and appropriate protective orders or other arrangements should be sought by the lawyer to the fullest extent practicable.
(21) Paragraph (c) permits but does not require the disclosure of information relating to a client’s representation to accomplish the purposes specified in paragraphs (c)(1) through (c)(6). In exercising the discretion conferred by this Rule, the lawyer may consider such factors as the nature of the lawyer’s relationship with the client and with those who might be injured by the client, the lawyer’s own involvement in the transaction and factors that may extenuate the conduct in question. A lawyer’s decision not to disclose as permitted by paragraph (c) does not violate this Rule. Disclosure may be required, however, by other Rules. Some Rules require disclosure only if such disclosure would be permitted by paragraph (c). See Rules 1.2(d), 4.1(b), 8.1 and 8.3. Rule 3.3, on the other hand, requires disclosure in some circumstances regardless of whether such disclosure is permitted by this Rule. See Rule 3.3(c).
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