Rules of Professional Conduct
Supreme Judicial Court Rules Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.6: Confidentiality of information
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A lawyer shall not reveal confidential information relating to the representation of a client unless the client gives informed consent, the disclosure is impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation or the disclosure is permitted by paragraph (b).
A lawyer may reveal confidential information relating to the representation of a client to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary, and to the extent required by Rules 3.3, 4.1(b), 8.1 or 8.3 must reveal, such information:
(1) to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm, or to prevent the wrongful execution or incarceration of another;
(2) to prevent the commission of a criminal or fraudulent act that the lawyer reasonably believes is likely to result in substantial injury to property, financial, or other significant interests of another;
(3) to prevent, mitigate or rectify substantial injury to property, financial, or other significant interests of another that is reasonably certain to result or has resulted from the client’s commission of a crime or fraud in furtherance of which the client has used the lawyer’s services;
(4) to secure legal advice about the lawyer’s compliance with these Rules;
(5) 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;
(6) to the extent permitted or required under these Rules or to comply with other law or a court order; or
(7) to detect and resolve conflicts of interest arising from the lawyer’s potential change of employment or from changes in the composition or ownership of a firm, but only if the revealed information would not compromise the attorney-client privilege or otherwise prejudice the client.
A lawyer shall make reasonable efforts to prevent the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, or unauthorized access to, confidential information relating to the representation of a client.
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 (d) 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.
 This Rule governs the disclosure by a lawyer of confidential 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 confidential information provided to the lawyer by a prospective client, Rule 1.9(c)(2) for the lawyer’s duty not to reveal confidential 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.
 A fundamental principle in the client-lawyer relationship is that, in the absence of the client’s informed consent or as otherwise permitted by these Rules, the lawyer must not reveal confidential information relating to the representation. See Rule 1.0(f) 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 communicate 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.
 The principle of client-lawyer confidentiality established by this Rule is broader than the attorney-client privilege and the work-product doctrine. 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 also applies in situations other than those where evidence is sought from the lawyer through compulsion of law.
[3A] “Confidential information” consists of information gained during or relating to the representation of a client, whatever its source, that is (a) protected by the attorney-client privilege, (b) likely to be embarrassing or detrimental to the client if disclosed, or (c) information that the lawyer has agreed to keep confidential. “Confidential information” does not ordinarily include (i) a lawyer’s legal knowledge or legal research or (ii) information that is generally known in the local community or in the trade, field or profession to which the information relates. A lawyer may not disclose confidential information except as authorized or required by the Rules of Professional Conduct or other law. See also Scope. Information that is “generally known in the local community or in the trade, field or profession to which the information relates” includes information that is widely known. Information about a client contained in a public record that has received widespread publicity would fall within this category. On the other hand, 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 in the local community.” As another example, a client’s disclosure of the fact of infidelity to a spouse is protected information, although it normally would not be after the client publicly discloses such information on television and in newspaper interviews. The accumulation of legal knowledge that a lawyer gains through practice ordinarily is not client information protected by this Rule. In addition, the factual information acquired about the structure and operation of an entire industry during the representation of one entity within the industry would not ordinarily prevent an attorney from undertaking a successive representation of another entity in a matter when the attorney had no other relevant confidential information from the earlier representation and there was no other conflict of interest at issue.
[3B] All these examples explain 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 Rule 1.9(c)(1) has been achieved more generally throughout the Rules by the addition of the word “confidential” in this Rule.
 Paragraph (a) prohibits a lawyer from revealing confidential 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.
 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 confidential information relating to a client of the firm, unless the client has instructed that particular confidential information be confined to specified lawyers. Before accepting or continuing representation on such a basis, the lawyers to whom such restricted confidential 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
 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. Paragraph (b)(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 if 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, even if the information is confidential information, if there is a present and substantial risk that a person who drinks the water will contract a life-threatening or debilitating disease and the lawyer’s disclosure is necessary to eliminate the threat or reduce the number of victims.
[6A] The use of the term “substantial” harm or injury in paragraphs (b)(1), (b)(2) and (b)(3) of this Rule 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 in paragraph (b)(1) 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.
 Paragraph (b)(2) is a limited exception to the rule of confidentiality that permits the lawyer to reveal confidential information to the extent necessary to enable affected persons or appropriate authorities to prevent the commission of a crime or fraud that the lawyer reasonably believes is likely both to occur and to result in substantial injury to the interests or property of another. The lawyer should not ignore facts that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that disclosure is permissible. Although paragraph (b)(2) does not require the lawyer to reveal the misconduct, the lawyer may not counsel or assist the client in conduct the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent. See Rule 1.2(d). See also Rule 1.16 with respect to the lawyer’s obligation or right to withdraw from the representation of the client in such circumstances, and Rule 1.13(c), which permits the lawyer, where the client is an organization, to reveal confidential information relating to the representation in limited circumstances.
 Paragraph (b)(3) addresses the situation in which the lawyer does not learn of the client’s crime or fraud until after it has been consummated. Although the client no longer has the option of preventing disclosure by refraining from the wrongful conduct, there will be situations in which the loss suffered by the affected person can be prevented, rectified or mitigated. In such situations, the lawyer may disclose confidential information relating to the representation to the extent necessary to enable the affected persons to prevent or mitigate reasonably certain losses or to attempt to recoup their losses. Paragraph (b)(3) does not apply when a person who has committed a crime or fraud thereafter consults or employs a lawyer for the purpose of representation concerning that offense.
[8A] Paragraphs (b)(2) and (b)(3) each permit a lawyer to disclose client confidential information under certain circumstances to prevent or ameliorate harm caused by the commission of a crime or fraud. Disclosure is permitted only when the harm constitutes substantial injury to property, financial, or other significant interests of another. The modifier “significant” is added to emphasize that a substantial injury to an insignificant interest is not an adequate basis for disclosure. Unlike the corresponding ABA Model Rule, this rule permits disclosure to prevent or ameliorate harm to non-financial interests as well as to property or financial interests. For example, the kidnapping of a child by a non-custodial parent may result in substantial injury to the vital interest of the other parent in maintaining custody of or even contact with his or her child. A criminal trespasser might invade a significant privacy interest of another. A person by crime or fraud might deprive someone of the right to vote or some other significant right of participation in the political process. These interests are not financial interests, but are sufficiently important that lawyers should have the discretion to disclose client confidential information to prevent or ameliorate crimes and frauds that substantially injure those interests.
 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 confidential 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 (b)(4) permits such disclosure because of the importance of a lawyer’s compliance with the Rules of Professional Conduct.
 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. The lawyer’s right to respond arises when an assertion of such complicity has been made. Paragraph (b)(5) 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.
 A lawyer entitled to a fee is permitted by paragraph (b)(5) 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.
 Other law may require that a lawyer disclose confidential 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 confidential 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. If, however, the other law supersedes this Rule and requires disclosure, paragraph (b)(6) permits the lawyer to make such disclosures as are necessary to comply with the law.
 Paragraph (b)(7) recognizes that lawyers in different firms may need to disclose limited confidential information to each other to detect and resolve conflicts of interest, such as when a lawyer is considering an association with another firm, two or more firms are considering a merger, or a lawyer is considering the purchase of a law practice. See Rule 1.17, Comment 7. Under these circumstances, lawyers and law firms are permitted to disclose limited confidential information, but only once substantive discussions regarding the new relationship have occurred. Any such disclosure should ordinarily include no more than the identity of the persons and entities involved in a matter, a brief summary of the general issues involved, the general extent of the lawyer’s involvement in the matter, and information about whether the matter has terminated. Even this limited confidential information, however, should be disclosed only to the extent reasonably necessary to detect and resolve conflicts of interest that might arise from the possible new relationship. Moreover, the disclosure of any such information is prohibited if it would compromise the attorney-client privilege or otherwise prejudice the client (e.g., the fact that a corporate client is seeking advice on a corporate takeover that has not been publicly announced; that a person has consulted a lawyer about the possibility of divorce before the person’s intentions are known to the person’s spouse; or that a person has consulted a lawyer about a criminal investigation that has not led to a public charge). Under those circumstances, paragraph (a) prohibits disclosure unless the client or former client gives informed consent. A lawyer’s fiduciary duty to the lawyer’s firm may also govern a lawyer’s conduct when exploring an association with another firm and is beyond the scope of these Rules.
 Any information received pursuant to paragraph (b)(7) may be used or further disclosed only to the extent necessary to detect and resolve conflicts of interest. Paragraph (b)(7) does not restrict the use of information acquired by means independent of any disclosure pursuant to paragraph (b)(7). Paragraph (b)(7) also does not affect the disclosure of information within a law firm when the disclosure is otherwise authorized, see Comment 5, such as when a lawyer in a firm discloses confidential information to another lawyer in the same firm to detect and resolve conflicts of interest that could arise in connection with undertaking a new representation. See also Rule 1.16.
 A lawyer may be ordered to reveal confidential 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 confidential 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. Unless review is sought, however, paragraph (b)(6) permits the lawyer to comply with the court’s order.
 Paragraph (b) 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 confidential 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. See also Rule 1.16, Comment 3.
 Paragraph (b) permits but does not require the disclosure of confidential information relating to a client’s representation to accomplish the purposes specified in paragraphs (b)(1) through (b)(7). In exercising the discretion conferred by this Rule, the lawyer may consider such factors as: (1) the seriousness of the potential harm to others; (2) the degree of certainty that the harm will occur, including the attorney’s assessment of the accuracy of the information; (3) the imminence of the harm; (4) the apparent absence of any other feasible way to prevent the potential harm; (5) the extent to which the client may be using or has used the lawyer’s services to bring about the harm, or the lawyer’s own involvement in the transaction; (6) the circumstances under which the lawyer acquired the confidential information, including if the information is protected by the attorney-client privilege; and (7) the nature of the lawyer’s relationship with the client and with those who might be injured by the client. Some of these factors may also be relevant to the exercise of discretion under paragraphs (b)(4) through (b)(7). In any instance, disclosure should be no greater than the lawyer reasonably believes necessary to prevent the harm. A lawyer’s decision not to disclose as permitted by paragraph (b) does not violate this Rule. Disclosure may be required, however, by other Rules. The reference to Rules 3.3, 4.1(b), 8.1 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. Some Rules require disclosure only if such disclosure would be permitted by paragraph (b). See Rules 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).
Notice of Disclosure to Client
[17A] Whenever these 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 factors 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.
Acting Competently to Preserve Confidentiality
 Paragraph (c) requires a lawyer to act competently to safeguard confidential information relating to the representation of a client against unauthorized access by third parties and against inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure by the lawyer or other persons who are participating in the representation of the client or who are subject to the lawyer’s supervision. See Rules 1.1, 5.1 and 5.3. The unauthorized access to, or the inadvertent or unauthorized disclosure of, confidential information relating to the representation of a client does not constitute a violation of paragraph (c) if the lawyer has made reasonable efforts to prevent the access or disclosure. Factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of the lawyer’s efforts include, but are not limited to, the sensitivity of the information, the likelihood of disclosure if additional safeguards are not employed, the cost of employing additional safeguards, the difficulty of implementing the safeguards, and the extent to which the safeguards adversely affect the lawyer’s ability to represent clients (e.g., by making a device or important piece of software excessively difficult to use). A client may require the lawyer to implement special security measures not required by this Rule or may give informed consent to forgo security measures that would otherwise be required by this Rule. Whether a lawyer may be required to take additional steps to safeguard a client’s information in order to comply with other law, such as state and federal laws that govern data privacy or that impose notification requirements upon the loss of, or unauthorized access to, electronic information, is beyond the scope of these Rules. For a lawyer’s duties when sharing information with nonlawyers outside the lawyer’s own firm, see Rule 5.3, Comments 3 and 4.
 When transmitting a communication that includes confidential information relating to the representation of a client, the lawyer must take reasonable precautions to prevent the confidential information from coming into the hands of unintended recipients. This duty, however, does not require that the lawyer use special security measures if the method of communication affords a reasonable expectation of privacy. Special circumstances, however, may warrant special precautions. Factors to be considered in determining the reasonableness of the lawyer’s expectation of confidentiality include the sensitivity of the information and the extent to which the privacy of the communication is protected by law or by a confidentiality agreement. A client may require the lawyer to implement special security measures not required by this Rule or may give informed consent to the use of a means of communication that would otherwise be prohibited by this Rule. Whether a lawyer may be required to take additional steps in order to comply with other law, such as state and federal laws that govern data privacy, is beyond the scope of these Rules.
 The duty of confidentiality continues after the client-lawyer relationship has terminated. See Rule 1.9(c)(2). See Rule 1.9(c)(1) for the prohibition against using such information to the disadvantage of the former client.
Downloads for Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.6: Confidentiality of information
|Updates:||Adopted March 26, 2015, effective July 1, 2015 Amended March 10, 2016, effective May 1, 2016|