(a) A lawyer shall not reveal confidential information relating to representation of a client unless the client consents after consultation, except for disclosures that are impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation, and except as stated in paragraph (b).

(b) A lawyer may reveal, and to the extent required by Rule 3.3, Rule 4.1(b) , or Rule 8.3 must reveal, such information:

(1) to prevent the commission of a criminal or fraudulent act that the lawyer reasonably believes is likely to result in death or substantial bodily harm, or in substantial injury to the financial interests or property of another, or to prevent the wrongful execution or incarceration of another;

(2) to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary 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 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;

(3) to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary to rectify client fraud in which the lawyer's services have been used, subject to Rule 3.3(e) ;

(4) when permitted under these rules or required by law or court order.

(c) A lawyer participating in a lawyer assistance program, as hereinafter defined, shall treat the person so assisted as a client for the purposes of this rule. Lawyer assistance means assistance provided to a lawyer, judge, other legal professional, or law student by a lawyer participating in an organized nonprofit effort to provide assistance in the form of (a) counseling as to practice matters (which shall not include counseling a law student in a law school clinical program) or (b) education as to personal health matters, such as the treatment and rehabilitation from a mental, emotional, or psychological disorder, alcoholism, substance abuse, or other addiction, or both. A lawyer named in an order of the Supreme Judicial Court or the Board of Bar Overseers concerning the monitoring or terms of probation of another attorney shall treat that other attorney as a client for the purposes of this rule. Any lawyer participating in a lawyer assistance program may require a person acting under the lawyer's supervision or control to sign a nondisclosure form approved by the Supreme Judicial Court. Nothing in this paragraph (c) shall require a bar association-sponsored ethics advisory committee, the Office of Bar Counsel, or any other governmental agency advising on questions of professional responsibility to treat persons so assisted as clients for the purpose of this rule.

Adopted June 9, 1997, effective January 1, 1998. Amended December 30, 1997, effective March 1, 1998.

Comment:

[1] The lawyer is part of a judicial system charged with upholding the law. One of the lawyer's functions is to advise clients so that they avoid any violation of the law in the proper exercise of their rights.

[2] The observance of the ethical obligation of a lawyer to hold inviolate confidential information of the client not only facilitates the full development of facts essential to proper representation of the client but also encourages people to seek early legal assistance.

[3] Almost without exception, clients come to lawyers in order to determine what their rights are and what is, in the maze of laws and regulations, deemed to be legal and correct. The common law recognizes that the client's confidences must be protected from disclosure.

[4] A fundamental principle in the client-lawyer relationship is that the lawyer maintain confidentiality of information relating to the representation. The client is thereby encouraged to communicate fully and frankly with the lawyer even as to embarrassing or legally damaging subject matter.

[5] The principle of confidentiality is given effect in two related bodies of law, the attorney-client privilege (and the related work product doctrine) in the law of evidence and the rule of confidentiality established in professional ethics. The attorney-client privilege applies 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 applies not merely to matters communicated in confidence by the client but also to virtually all information relating to the representation, whatever its source. The term "confidential information" relating to representation of a client therefore includes information described as "confidences" and "secrets" in former DR 4-101(A) but without the limitation in the prior rules that the information be "embarrassing" or "detrimental" to the client. Former DR 4-101(A) provided: "'Confidence' refers to information protected by the attorney-client privilege under applicable law, and 'secret' refers to other information gained in the professional relationship that the client has requested be held inviolate or the disclosure of which would be embarrassing or would likely [] be detrimental to the client." See also Scope.

[5A] The word "virtually" appears in the fourth sentence of paragraph 5 above to reflect the common sense understanding that not every piece of information that a lawyer obtains relating to a representation is protected confidential information. While this understanding may be difficult to apply in some cases, some information is so widely available or generally known that it need not be treated as confidential. The lawyer's discovery that there was dense fog at the airport at a particular time does not fall within the rule. Such information is readily available. While a client's disclosure of the fact of infidelity to a spouse is protected information, it normally would not be after the client publicly discloses such information on television and in newspaper interviews. On the other hand, the mere fact that information disclosed by a client to a lawyer is a matter of public record does not mean that it may not fall within the protection of this rule. A client's disclosure of conviction of a crime in a different state a long time ago or disclosure of a secret marriage would be protected even if a matter of public record because such information was not generally known.

[5B] The exclusion of generally known or widely available information from the information protected by this rule explains the addition of the word "confidential" before the word "information" in Rule 1.6(a) as compared to the comparable ABA Model Rule. It also explains the elimination of the words "or is generally known" in Rule 1.9(c)(1) as compared to the comparable ABA Model Rule. The elimination of such information from the concept of protected information in that subparagraph has been achieved more generally throughout the rules by the addition of the word "confidential" in this rule. It might be misleading to repeat the concept in just one specific subparagraph. Moreover, even information that is generally known may in some circumstances be protected, as when the client instructs the lawyer that generally known information, for example, spousal infidelity, not be revealed to a specific person, for example, the spouse's parent who does not know of it.

[6] The requirement of maintaining confidentiality of information relating to representation applies to government lawyers who may disagree with the policy goals that their representation is designed to advance.
Authorized Disclosure

[7] A lawyer is authorized to make disclosures about a client when appropriate in carrying out the representation, except to the extent that the client's instructions or special circumstances limit that authority. In litigation, for example, a lawyer may disclose information by admitting a fact that cannot properly be disputed, or in negotiation by making a disclosure that facilitates a satisfactory conclusion. Rule 1.6(b)(4) has been added to make clear the purpose to carry forward the explicit statement of former DR 4-101(C)(2).

[8] 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. Before accepting or continuing representation on such a basis, the lawyers to whom such restricted information will be communicated must assure themselves that the restriction will not contravene firm governance rules or prevent them from discovering disqualifying conflicts of interests.
Disclosure Adverse to Client

[9] One premise of the confidentiality rule is that to the extent a lawyer is required or permitted to disclose a client's confidential information, the client will be inhibited from revealing facts that would enable thelawyer to counsel against a wrongful course of action. The implication of that premise is that generally the public will be better protected if full and open communication by the client is encouraged than if it is inhibited. Nevertheless, there are instances when the confidentiality rule is subject to exceptions.

[9A] Rule 1.6(b)(1) is derived from the original Kutak Commission proposal for the ABA Model Rules which permitted disclosure of confidential information to prevent criminal or fraudulent acts likely to result in death or substantial bodily harm or in substantial injury to the financial interests or property of another. The former Massachusetts Disciplinary Rules permitted revelation of confidential information with respect to all crimes and all injuries, no matter how trivial. The use of the term "substantial" harm or injury restricts permitted revelation by limiting the permission granted to instances when the harm or injury is likely to be more than trivial or small. The reference to bodily harm is not meant to require physical injury as a prerequisite. Acts of statutory rape, for example, fall within the concept of bodily harm. Rule 1.6(b)(1) also permits a lawyer to reveal confidential information in the specific situation where such information discloses that an innocent person has been convicted of a crime and has been sentenced to imprisonment or execution. This language has been included to permit disclosure of confidential information in these circumstances where the failure to disclose may not involve the commission of a crime.

[10] Several situations must be distinguished.

[11] First, the lawyer may not counsel or assist a client in conduct that is criminal or fraudulent. See Rule 1.2(d) . Similarly, a lawyer has a duty under Rule 3.3(a)(4) not to use false evidence. This duty is essentially a special instance of the duty prescribed in Rule 1.2(d) to avoid assisting a client in criminal or fraudulent conduct.

[12] Second, the lawyer may have been innocently involved in past conduct by the client that was criminal or fraudulent. In such a situation the lawyer has not violated Rule 1.2(d) , because to "counsel or assist" criminal or fraudulent conduct requires knowing that the conduct is of that character. See Rule 4.1, Comment 3 . With regard to conduct before a tribunal, however, see the special meaning of the concept of assisting in Rule 3.3, Comment 2A .

[12A] When the lawyer's services have been used by the client to perpetrate a fraud, that is a perversion of the lawyer-client relationship and Rule 1.6(b)(3) permits the lawyer to reveal confidential information necessary to rectify the fraud.

[13] Third, the lawyer may have confidential information whose disclosure the lawyer reasonably believes is necessary to prevent the commission of a crime that is likely to result in death or substantial bodily or financial harm. As stated in paragraph (b)(1), the lawyer has professional discretion to reveal such information. Before disclosure is made, the lawyer should have a reasonable belief that a crime is likely to be committed and that disclosure of confidential information is necessary to prevent it. The lawyer should not ignore facts that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that disclosure is permissible.

[13A] The language of paragraph (b)(1) has been changed from the ABA Model Rules version to permit disclosure of a client's confidential information when the harm will be the result of the activities of third parties as well as of the client.

[14] The lawyer's exercise of discretion requires consideration of 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. Where practical, the lawyer should seek to persuade the client to take suitable action. In any case, a disclosure adverse to the client's interest should be no greater than the lawyer reasonably believes necessary to the purpose. A lawyer's decision not to take preventive action permitted by paragraph (b)(1) does not violate this rule, but in particular circumstances, it might violate Rule 3.3(e) or Rule 4.1.
Withdrawal

[15] If the lawyer's services will be used by the client in materially furthering a course of criminal or fraudulent conduct, the lawyer must withdraw, as stated in Rule 1.16(a)(1) . If the client has already used the lawyer's services to commit fraud, the lawyer may reveal confidential information to rectify the fraud in accordance with Rule 1.6(b)(3).

[16] After withdrawal the lawyer is required to refrain from making disclosure of the client's confidences, except as otherwise provided in Rule 1.6, Rule 3.3, Rule 4.1, and Rule 8.3. Neither this rule nor Rule 1.8(b) nor Rule 1.16(d) prevents the lawyer from giving notice of the fact of withdrawal, and the lawyer may also withdraw or disaffirm any opinion, document, affirmation, or the like.

[17] Where the client is an organization, the lawyer may be in doubt whether contemplated conduct will actually be carried out by the organization. Where necessary to guide conduct in connection with this rule, the lawyer may make inquiry within the organization as indicated in Rule 1.13(b) .

Dispute Concerning a Lawyer's Conduct

[18] 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. The lawyer's right to respond arises when an assertion of such complicity has been made. Paragraph (b)(2) 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, of course, applies where a proceeding has been commenced. Where practicable and not prejudicial to the lawyer's ability to establish the defense, the lawyer should advise the client of the third party's assertion and request that the client respond appropriately. In any event, disclosure should be no greater than the lawyer reasonably believes is necessary to vindicate innocence, the disclosure should be made in a manner which 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.

[19] 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. Such a charge can arise in a civil, criminal, or professional disciplinary 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. A lawyer entitled to a fee is permitted by paragraph (b)(2) 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. 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 the need to know it, and to obtain protective orders or make other arrangements minimizing the risk of disclosure.
Notice of Disclosure to Client.

[19A] Whenever the rules permit or require the lawyer to disclose a client's confidential information, the issue arises whether the lawyer should, as a part of the confidentiality and loyalty obligation and as a matter of competent practice, advise the client beforehand of the plan to disclose. It is not possible to state an absolute rule to govern a lawyer's conduct in such situations. In some cases, it may be impractical or even dangerous for the lawyer to advise the client of the intent to reveal confidential information either before or even after the fact. Indeed, such revelation might thwart the reason for creation of the exception. It might hasten the commission of a dangerous act by a client or it might enable clients to prevent lawyers from defending themselves against accusations of lawyer misconduct. But there will be instances, such as the intended delivery of whole files to prosecutors to convince them not to indict the lawyer, where the failure to give notice would prevent the client from making timely objection to the revelation of too much confidential information. Lawyers will have to weigh the various policies and make reasonable judgments about the demands of loyalty, the requirements of competent practice, and the policy reasons for creating the exception to confidentiality in order to decide whether they should give advance notice to clients of the intended disclosure.
Disclosures Otherwise Required or Authorized

[20] If a lawyer is called as a witness to give testimony concerning a client, absent waiver by the client, paragraph (a) requires the lawyer to invoke the privilege when it is applicable. The lawyer must comply with the final orders of a court or other tribunal of competent jurisdiction requiring the lawyer to give information about the client. Whether a lawyer should consider an appeal before complying with a court order depends on such considerations as the gravity of the harm to the client from compliance and the likelihood of prevailing on appeal.

[21] These rules in various circumstances permit or require a lawyer to disclose information relating to the representation. See Rules 2.3, 3.3, 4.1, and 8.3. The reference to Rules 3.3, 4.1(b), and 8.3 in the opening phrase of Rule 1.6(b) has been added to emphasize that Rule 1.6(b) is not the only provision of these rules that deals with the disclosure of confidential information and that in some circumstances disclosure of such information may be required and not merely permitted. In addition to these provisions, a lawyer may be obligated or permitted by other provisions of law to give information about a client. Whether another provision of law supersedes Rule 1.6 is a matter of interpretation beyond the scope of these rules.

Former Client

[22] The duty of confidentiality continues after the client-lawyer relationship has terminated.

Corresponding ABA Model Rule. (a) identical to Model Rule 1.6(a) except that the information must be confidential information; (b) different, in part taken from DR 4-101 (C); (c) based on DR 4-101 (E).

Corresponding Former Massachusetts Rule. DR 4-101 (C), see also DR 7-102 (B).

Cross-reference: See definition of "consultation" in Rule 9.1(c) .