Supreme Judicial Court Rules

Rules of Professional Conduct

Supreme Judicial Court Rules Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 4.4: Respect for rights of third persons

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

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Table of Contents

(a) (effective until October 1, 2022) 

In representing a client, a lawyer shall not use means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, delay, or burden a third person, or use methods of obtaining evidence that violate the legal rights of such a person. 

(a) (effective October 1, 2022) 

In representing a client, a lawyer shall not

(1) use means that have no substantial purpose other than to embarrass, harass, delay, or burden a third person,

(2) use methods of obtaining evidence that violate the legal rights of such a person, or

(3) engage in conduct that manifests bias or prejudice against such a person based on race, sex, marital status, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation, or gender identity. This clause (3) does not preclude legitimate advice or advocacy otherwise consistent with these Rules.

(b)

A lawyer who receives a document or electronically stored information relating to the representation of the lawyer’s client and knows or reasonably should know that the document or electronically stored information was inadvertently sent shall promptly notify the sender. 

Comment (effective until October 1, 2022)

[1] Responsibility to a client requires a lawyer to subordinate the interests of others to those of the client, but that responsibility does not imply that a lawyer may disregard the rights of third persons. It is impractical to catalogue all such rights, but they include legal restrictions on methods of obtaining evidence from third persons and unwarranted intrusions into privileged relationships, such as the client-lawyer relationship. 

[2] Paragraph (b) recognizes that lawyers sometimes receive a document or electronically stored information that was mistakenly sent or produced by opposing parties or their lawyers. A document or electronically stored information is inadvertently sent when it is accidentally transmitted, such as when an email or letter is misaddressed or a document or electronically stored information is accidentally included with information that was intentionally transmitted. If a lawyer knows or reasonably should know that such a document or electronically stored information was sent inadvertently, then this Rule requires the lawyer to promptly notify the sender in order to permit that person to take protective measures. Whether the lawyer is required to take additional steps, such as returning or deleting the document or electronically stored information, is a matter of law beyond the scope of these Rules, as is the question of whether the privileged status of a document or electronically stored information has been waived. Similarly, this Rule does not address the legal duties of a lawyer who receives a document or electronically stored information that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know may have been inappropriately obtained by the sending person. For purposes of this Rule, “document or electronically stored information” includes paper documents, email and other forms of electronically stored information, including embedded data (commonly referred to as “metadata”), that is subject to being read or put into readable form. Metadata in electronic documents creates an obligation under this Rule only if the receiving lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the metadata was inadvertently sent to the receiving lawyer. 

[3] Some lawyers may choose to return a document or delete electronically stored information unread, for example, when the lawyer learns before receiving it that it was inadvertently sent. Where a lawyer is not required by applicable law to do so, the decision to voluntarily return such a document or delete electronically stored information is a matter of professional judgment ordinarily reserved to the lawyer. See Rules 1.2 and 1.4.

Comment (effective October 1, 2022)

[1] Responsibility to a client requires a lawyer to subordinate the interests of others to those of the client, but that responsibility does not imply that a lawyer may disregard the rights of third persons, including other parties, counsel, witnesses, court personnel, and other participants in the legal process. It is impractical to catalog all such rights, but they include legal restrictions on methods of obtaining evidence from third persons and unwarranted intrusions into privileged relationships, such as the client-lawyer relationship.

[1A] It is also impractical to catalog all the ways in which a person may be harassed. A non-exhaustive, illustrative list of examples of harassment includes: physical conduct that would cause a reasonable person to feel threatened; following a person (or causing another to follow a person) in or about a public place or places (other than legitimate investigation relating to a matter); communicating to or about such other person any lewd, lascivious or threatening language or images; communicating (or causing another to communicate) repeatedly in an anonymous manner or repeatedly at extremely inconvenient hours; and engaging in a course of conduct that is reasonably likely to cause fear, distress, or physical or psychological harm.

[1B] Professional actions by an attorney that manifest bias or prejudice in violation of paragraph (a)(3) undermine confidence in the legal profession and strike at the heart of the legal system, under which all persons are to be treated equally and with equal dignity. Paragraph (a)(3) concerns conduct in the representation of a client that manifests bias or prejudice based on race, sex, marital status, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender identity of any person. When these factors are relevant to a representation, paragraph (a)(3) does not prohibit legitimate advocacy or advice.

[2] Paragraph (b) recognizes that lawyers sometimes receive a document or electronically stored information that was mistakenly sent or produced by opposing parties or their lawyers. A document or electronically stored information is inadvertently sent when it is accidentally transmitted, such as when an email or letter is misaddressed or a document or electronically stored information is accidentally included with information that was intentionally transmitted. If a lawyer knows or reasonably should know that such a document or electronically stored information was sent inadvertently, then this Rule requires the lawyer to promptly notify the sender in order to permit that person to take protective measures. Whether the lawyer is required to take additional steps, such as returning or deleting the document or electronically stored information, is a matter of law beyond the scope of these Rules, as is the question of whether the privileged status of a document or electronically stored information has been waived. Similarly, this Rule does not address the legal duties of a lawyer who receives a document or electronically stored information that the lawyer knows or reasonably should know may have been inappropriately obtained by the sending person. For purposes of this Rule, “document or electronically stored information” includes paper documents, email and other forms of electronically stored information, including embedded data (commonly referred to as “metadata”), that is subject to being read or put into readable form. Metadata in electronic documents creates an obligation under this Rule only if the receiving lawyer knows or reasonably should know that the metadata was inadvertently sent to the receiving lawyer. 

[3] Some lawyers may choose to return a document or delete electronically stored information unread, for example, when the lawyer learns before receiving it that it was inadvertently sent. Where a lawyer is not required by applicable law to do so, the decision to voluntarily return such a document or delete electronically stored information is a matter of professional judgment ordinarily reserved to the lawyer. See Rules 1.2 and 1.4.

Downloads for Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 4.4: Respect for rights of third persons

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