Supreme Judicial Court Rules
Rules of Professional Conduct

Supreme Judicial Court Rules  Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 3.4: Fairness to opposing party and counsel

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

Table of Contents

Rule 3.4

A lawyer shall not: 


unlawfully obstruct another party’s access to evidence or unlawfully alter, destroy, or conceal a document or other material having potential evidentiary value, or counsel or assist another person to do any such act; 


falsify evidence, counsel or assist a witness to testify falsely, or offer an inducement to a witness that is prohibited by law; 


knowingly disobey an obligation under the rules of a tribunal except for an open refusal based on an assertion that no valid obligation exists; 


in pretrial procedure, make a frivolous discovery request or fail to make reasonably diligent effort to comply with a legally proper discovery request by an opposing party; 


in appearing before a tribunal on behalf of a client: 

(1) state or allude to any matter that the lawyer does not reasonably believe is relevant or that will not be supported by admissible evidence; 

(2) assert personal knowledge of facts in issue except when testifying as a witness; or 

(3) assert a personal opinion as to the justness of a cause, the credibility of a witness, the culpability of a civil litigant or the guilt or innocence of an accused, but the lawyer may argue, upon analysis of the evidence, for any position or conclusion with respect to the matters stated herein; 


request a person other than a client to refrain from voluntarily giving relevant information to another party unless: 

(1) the person is a relative or an employee or other agent of a client; and 

(2) the lawyer reasonably believes that the person’s interests will not be adversely affected by refraining from giving such information; 


pay, offer to pay, or acquiesce in the payment of compensation to a witness contingent upon the content of his or her testimony or the outcome of the case, provided that a lawyer may advance, guarantee, or acquiesce in the payment of: 

(1) expenses reasonably incurred by a witness in preparing, attending or testifying; 

(2) reasonable compensation to a witness for loss of time in preparing, attending or testifying; and 

(3) a reasonable fee for the professional services of an expert witness; or


present, participate in presenting, or threaten to present criminal or disciplinary charges solely to obtain an advantage in a private civil matter.


[1] The procedure of the adversary system contemplates that the evidence in a case is to be marshalled competitively by the contending parties. Fair competition in the adversary system is secured by prohibitions against destruction or concealment of evidence, improperly influencing witnesses, obstructive tactics in discovery procedure, and the like. 

[2] Documents and other items of evidence are often essential to establish a claim or defense. Subject to evidentiary privileges, the right of an opposing party, including the government, to obtain evidence through discovery or subpoena is an important procedural right. The exercise of that right can be frustrated if relevant material is altered, concealed or destroyed. Applicable law in many jurisdictions makes it an offense to destroy material for purpose of impairing its availability in a pending proceeding or one whose commencement can be foreseen. Falsifying evidence is also generally a criminal offense. Paragraph (a) applies to evidentiary material generally, including computerized information. Applicable law may permit a lawyer to take temporary possession of physical evidence of client crimes for the purpose of conducting a limited examination that will not alter or destroy material characteristics of the evidence. In such a case, applicable law may require the lawyer to turn the evidence over to the police or other prosecuting authority, depending on the circumstances. 

[3] With regard to paragraph (b), it is not improper to pay a witness as provided in paragraph (g). 

[3A] The obligations covered by paragraph (c) include, where the rules of the tribunal so require, obligations to cooperate in scheduling and case management and to meet and confer in good faith to resolve or narrow issues before submitting them to the tribunal for decision.

[4] Paragraph (f) permits a lawyer to advise employees of a client to refrain from giving information to another party, for the employees may identify their interests with those of the client. See also Rule 4.2

[5] Paragraph (g) concerns the payment of funds to a witness. Compensation of a witness may not be based on the content of the witness’s testimony or the result in the proceeding. A lawyer may pay a witness reasonable compensation for time lost and for expenses reasonably incurred in preparing for or attending the proceeding. A lawyer may pay a reasonable fee for the professional services of an expert witness. 

[6] Paragraph (h) prohibits filing or threatening to file disciplinary charges as well as criminal charges solely to obtain an advantage in a private civil matter. The word “private” makes clear that a government lawyer may pursue criminal or civil enforcement, or both criminal and civil enforcement, remedies available to the government. This Rule is never violated by a report under Rule 8.3 made in good faith because the report would not be made “solely” to gain an advantage in a civil matter. 

Downloads   for Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 3.4: Fairness to opposing party and counsel


Updates: Adopted March 26, 2015, effective July 1, 2015 Amended July 13, 2022, effective October 1, 2022

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