Supreme Judicial Court Rules
Rules of Professional Conduct

Supreme Judicial Court Rules  Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.0: Terminology

Adopted Date: 03/26/2015
Effective Date: 10/01/2022
Updates: Amended July 13, 2022, effective October 1, 2022

Table of Contents

Rule 1.0

The following definitions are applicable to the Rules of Professional Conduct: 

(a) “Bar association” includes an association of specialists in particular services, fields, and areas of law. 

(b) “Belief” or “believes” denotes that the person involved actually supposed the fact in question to be true. A person’s belief may be inferred from circumstances.

(c) "Confidential information" is defined in Rule 1.6(a).

(d) “Confirmed in writing,” when used in reference to the informed consent of a person, denotes informed consent that is given in writing by the person or a writing that a lawyer promptly transmits to the person confirming an oral informed consent.  See paragraph (f) for the definition of “informed consent.”  If it is not feasible to obtain or transmit the writing at the time the person gives informed consent, then the lawyer must obtain or transmit it within a reasonable time thereafter.   

(e) “Firm” or “law firm” denotes a lawyer or lawyers in a law partnership, professional corporation, limited liability entity, sole proprietorship or other association authorized to practice law; or lawyers employed in a legal services organization or the legal department of a corporation, government entity, or other organization. 

(f) “Fraud” or “fraudulent” denotes conduct that is fraudulent under substantive or procedural law and has a purpose to deceive. 

(g) “Informed consent” denotes the agreement by a person to a proposed course of conduct after the lawyer has communicated adequate information and explanation about the material risks of and reasonably available alternatives to the proposed course of conduct. 

(h) “Knowingly,” “known,” or “knows” denotes actual knowledge of the fact in question. A person’s knowledge may be inferred from circumstances. 

(i) “Partner” denotes a member of a partnership, a shareholder in a law firm organized as a professional corporation, or a member of an association authorized to practice law. 

(j) “Person” includes a corporation, an association, a trust, a partnership, and any other organization or legal entity. 

(k) “Qualified legal assistance organization” means a legal aid, public defender, or military assistance office; or a bona fide organization that recommends, furnishes or pays for legal services to its members or beneficiaries, provided the office, service, or organization receives no profit from the rendition of legal services, is not designed to procure financial benefit or legal work for a lawyer as a private practitioner, does not infringe the individual member’s freedom as a client to challenge the approved counsel or to select outside counsel at the client’s expense, and is not in violation of any applicable law. 

(l) “Reasonable” or “reasonably” when used in relation to conduct by a lawyer denotes the conduct of a reasonably prudent and competent lawyer. 

(m) “Reasonable belief” or “reasonably believes” when used in reference to a lawyer denotes that the lawyer believes the matter in question and that the circumstances are such that the belief is reasonable. 

(n) “Reasonably should know” when used in reference to a lawyer denotes that a lawyer of reasonable prudence and competence would ascertain the matter in question.

(o) "Sexual relations" denotes sexual intercourse or the intentional touching of an intimate part of the lawyer or another person for the purpose of sexual arousal or sexual gratification.

(p) “State” includes the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and federal territories or possessions. 

(q) “Substantial” when used in reference to degree or extent denotes a material matter of clear and weighty importance. 

(r) “Tribunal” denotes a court, an arbitrator in a binding arbitration proceeding, or a legislative body, administrative agency or other body acting in an adjudicative capacity. A legislative body, administrative agency or other body acts in an adjudicative capacity when a neutral official, after the presentation of evidence or legal argument by a party or parties, will render a binding legal judgment directly affecting a party’s interests in a particular matter. 

(s) “Writing” or “written” denotes a tangible or electronic record of a communication or representation, including handwriting, typewriting, printing, photostating, photography, audio or videorecording and electronic communications. A “signed” writing includes an electronic sound, symbol or process attached to or logically associated with a writing and executed or adopted by a person with the intent to sign the writing. 

(t) These Rules shall be known and cited as the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct (Mass. R. Prof. C.). 


Confirmed in Writing 

[1] If it is not feasible to obtain or transmit a written confirmation at the time the client gives informed consent, then the lawyer must obtain or transmit it within a reasonable time thereafter. If a lawyer has obtained a client’s informed consent, the lawyer may act in reliance on that consent so long as it is confirmed in writing within a reasonable time thereafter. 


[2] Whether two or more lawyers constitute a firm within paragraph (d) can depend on the specific facts. For example, two practitioners who share office space and occasionally consult or assist each other ordinarily would not be regarded as constituting a firm. However, if they present themselves to the public in a way that suggests that they are a firm or conduct themselves as a firm, they should be regarded as a firm for purposes of the Rules. The terms of any formal agreement between associated lawyers are relevant in determining whether they are a firm, as is the fact that they have mutual access to information concerning the clients they serve. Furthermore, it is relevant in doubtful cases to consider the underlying purpose of the Rule that is involved. A group of lawyers could be regarded as a firm for purposes of the Rule that the same lawyer should not represent opposing parties in litigation, while it might not be so regarded for purposes of the Rule that information acquired by one lawyer is attributed to another. 

[3] With respect to the law department of an organization, including the government, there is ordinarily no question that the members of the department constitute a firm within the meaning of the Rules of Professional Conduct. There can be uncertainty, however, as to the identity of the client. For example, it may not be clear whether the law department of a corporation represents a subsidiary or an affiliated corporation, as well as the corporation by which the members of the department are directly employed. A similar question can arise concerning an unincorporated association and its local affiliates. 

[4] Similar questions can also arise with respect to lawyers in legal aid and legal services organizations. Depending upon the structure of the organization, the entire organization or different components of it may constitute a firm or firms for purposes of these Rules. 


[5] When used in these Rules, the terms “fraud” or “fraudulent” refer to conduct that is characterized as such under the substantive or procedural law of the applicable jurisdiction and has a purpose to deceive. This does not include merely negligent misrepresentation or negligent failure to apprise another of relevant information. For purposes of these Rules, it is not necessary that anyone has suffered damages or relied on the misrepresentation or failure to inform. 

Informed Consent 

[6] Many of the Rules of Professional Conduct require the lawyer to obtain the informed consent of a client or other person (e.g., a former client or, under certain circumstances, a prospective client) before accepting or continuing representation or pursuing a course of conduct. See, e.g., Rules 1.2(c)1.6(a) and 1.7(b). The communication necessary to obtain such consent will vary according to the Rule involved and the circumstances giving rise to the need to obtain informed consent. The lawyer must make reasonable efforts to ensure that the client or other person possesses information reasonably adequate to make an informed decision. Ordinarily, this will require communication that includes a disclosure of the facts and circumstances giving rise to the situation, any explanation reasonably necessary to inform the client or other person of the material advantages and disadvantages of the proposed course of conduct and a discussion of the client’s or other person’s options and alternatives. In some circumstances it may be appropriate for a lawyer to advise a client or other person to seek the advice of other counsel. A lawyer need not inform a client or other person of facts or implications already known to the client or other person; nevertheless, a lawyer who does not personally inform the client or other person assumes the risk that the client or other person is inadequately informed and the consent is invalid. In determining whether the information and explanation provided are reasonably adequate, relevant factors include whether the client or other person is experienced in legal matters generally and in making decisions of the type involved, and whether the client or other person is independently represented by other counsel in giving the consent. Normally, such persons need less information and explanation than others, and generally a client or other person who is independently represented by other counsel in giving the consent should be assumed to have given informed consent. 

[7] Obtaining informed consent will usually require an affirmative response by the client or other person. In general, a lawyer may not assume consent from a client’s or other person’s silence. Consent may be inferred, however, from the conduct of a client or other person who has reasonably adequate information about the matter. A number of Rules require that a person’s consent be confirmed in writing. See Rules 1.7(b) and 1.9(a). For a definition of “writing” and “confirmed in writing,” see paragraphs (q) and (c). Other Rules require that a client’s consent be obtained in a writing signed by the client. See, e.g., Rules 1.8(a) and (g). For a definition of “signed,” see paragraph (q). 

[8] The final category of qualified legal assistance organization requires that the organization “receives no profit from the rendition of legal services.” That condition refers to the entire legal services operation of the organization; it does not prohibit the receipt of a court-awarded fee that would result in a “profit” from that particular lawsuit.  An award of attorney's fees that leads to an operating gain in a fiscal year does not create a “profit” for purposes of this subparagraph.

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