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Ethics Question Of The Week

Q.  Can I contact former clients with whom I had an attorney-client relationship and tell them I left my firm?

A. Comment 4 to IRPC 7.3 does not prohibit an attorney from directly contacting former clients to inform them of the attorney’s departure or to solicit their employment.

Any individual planning to leave a firm should review the case of Dowd & Dowd, LTD. V. Gleason, 352 Ill. App. 3d 365 (1st Dist. 2004) which covers many aspects such as contacting prospective clients before one has actually left their firm and other fiduciary duties  For more information, see ISBA Advisory Opinion 12-14. 

ISBA members can browse past ISBA Ethics Opinions, access our Ethics Hotline, and other resources on the ISBA Ethics Page.

[DisclaimerThese questions are representative of calls received on the ISBA’s ethics hotline.  The information provided below is meant as an educational tool to highlight potentially applicable Illinois RPC or other ethics resources that might help the lawyer answer the question posed.  The information provided isn’t legal advice.  Because every situation is different, often complex, and the law is constantly evolving, you shouldn’t rely upon this general information without conducting your own research.]

Q. Do I violate Rule 4.2 if I give another lawyer’s client a “second opinion” on a pending legal matter in which I am not involved?

A. Rule 4.2 provides that “[I]n representing a client, a lawyer shall not communicate about the subject of the representation with a person the lawyer knows to be represented by another lawyer in the matter” without that lawyer’s consent.

However, Comment [4] to the Rule makes it clear that it does not “preclude communication with a represented person who is seeking advice from a lawyer who is not otherwise representing a client in the matter.”

ISBA members can browse past ISBA Ethics Opinions, access our Ethics Hotline, and other resources on the ISBA Ethics Page.

[DisclaimerThese questions are representative of calls received on the ISBA’s ethics hotline.  The information provided is meant as an educational tool to highlight potentially applicable Illinois RPC or other ethics resources that might help the lawyer answer the question posed.  The information provided isn’t legal advice.  Because every situation is different, often complex, and the law is constantly evolving, you shouldn’t rely upon this general information without conducting your own research.]

Q.  Can I refer clients to another lawyer or nonlawyer in exchange for referrals from them?

A.  IRPC 7.2(b)(4) states that a “lawyer shall not give anything of value to a person for recommending the lawyer’s services except that a lawyer may (4) refer clients to another lawyer or nonlawyer professional pursuant to an agreement not otherwise prohibited under these Rules that provides for the other person to refer clients or customers to the lawyer if (i) the reciprocal referral agreement is not exclusive, and (ii) the client is informed of the existence and nature of the agreement.”  Comment 8 to this rule goes on to state that such an arrangement must not interfere with the lawyer’s professional judgment.  For further discussion, see ISBA Advisory Opinion 12-03 as well as the full text to rule 7.2 

ISBA members can browse past ISBA Ethics Opinions, access our Ethics Hotline, and other resources on the ISBA Ethics Page.

[Disclaimer. These questions are representative of calls received on the ISBA’s ethics hotline. The information provided below is meant as an educational tool to highlight potentially applicable Illinois RPC or other ethics resources that might help the lawyer answer the question posed. The information provided isn’t legal advice. Because every situation is different, often complex, and the law is constantly evolving, you shouldn’t rely upon this general information without conducting your own research.]

Q. Can I compensate a fact witness for testifying in a civil trial?

A. Under Rule 3.4(b) a lawyer cannot “offer an inducement to a witness that is prohibited by law.” However, Comment [3] to that Rule makes it clear that it is not improper to pay a witness the reasonable expenses incurred in providing evidence, including reimbursement for the reasonable charges for travel, hotels, meals, child care, or the reasonable value of time spent attending a deposition or hearing or consulting with the lawyer.

ISBA members can browse past ISBA Ethics Opinions, access our Ethics Hotline, and other resources on the ISBA Ethics Page.

[DisclaimerThese questions are representative of calls received on the ISBA’s ethics hotline.  The information provided below is meant as an educational tool to highlight potentially applicable Illinois RPC or other ethics resources that might help the lawyer answer the question posed.  The information provided isn’t legal advice.  Because every situation is different, often complex, and the law is constantly evolving, you shouldn’t rely upon this general information without conducting your own research.]

Q.  Am I allowed to advertise that I am “specialized” in a certain area of law?

A.  Rule 7.4 allows lawyers to advertise that they do or do not practice in a particular field of law. However, the rule also states that the Supreme Court of Illinois does not recognize certifications of specialties in the practice of law. IRPC 7.4(c). For a full explanation, see Rule 7.4.

ISBA members can browse past ISBA Ethics Opinions, access our Ethics Hotline, and other resources on the ISBA Ethics Page.

[Disclaimer. These questions are representative of calls received on the ISBA’s ethics hotline. The information provided below is meant as an educational tool to highlight potentially applicable Illinois RPC or other ethics resources that might help the lawyer answer the question posed. The information provided isn’t legal advice.  Because every situation is different, often complex, and the law is constantly evolving, you shouldn’t rely upon this general information without conducting your own research.]

Q.  What are the rules regarding communicating with an unrepresented individual?

A.  IRPC 4.3 allows an attorney to communicate and negotiate with an unrepresented individual as long as certain requirements are met. The attorney “shall not state or imply that the lawyer is disinterested” and “the lawyer shall not give any legal advice to the unrepresented person, other than the advice to secure counsel.” For more information, see ISBA Professional Conduct Advisory Opinion 14-02

ISBA members can browse past ISBA Ethics Opinions, access our Ethics Hotline, and other resources on the ISBA Ethics Page.

DisclaimerThese questions are representative of calls received on the ISBA’s ethics hotline.  The information provided below is meant as an educational tool to highlight potentially applicable Illinois RPC or other ethics resources that might help the lawyer answer the question posed.  The information provided isn’t legal advice.  Because every situation is different, often complex, and the law is constantly evolving, you shouldn’t rely upon this general information without conducting your own research.

Q.  Am I exposed to any civil liability for making a Himmel report or making a complaint to the ARDC about someone engaging in UPL?

A.  Illinois Supreme Court Rule 775 provides that “any person … who communicates a complaint concerning an attorney or allegations regarding the unauthorized practice of law to the ARDC… shall be immune from all civil liability which, except for this rule, might result from such communications or complaint.” 

ISBA members can browse past ISBA Ethics Opinions, access our Ethics Hotline, and other resources on the ISBA Ethics Page.

Q.  What are the rules regarding engaging in a sexual relationship with a client?

A.  IRPC 1.8(j) states that a lawyer “shall not have sexual relations with a client unless a consensual sexual relationship existed between them when the client-lawyer relationship commenced.”  For further explanation, see comments [17], [18] and [19] to rule 1.8(j). 

ISBA members can browse past ISBA Ethics Opinions, access our Ethics Hotline, and other resources on the ISBA Ethics Page.

DisclaimerThese questions are representative of calls received on the ISBA’s ethics hotline.  The information provided below is meant as an educational tool to highlight potentially applicable Illinois RPC or other ethics resources that might help the lawyer answer the question posed.  The information provided isn’t legal advice.  Because every situation is different, often complex, and the law is constantly evolving, you shouldn’t rely upon this general information without conducting your own research.

Q. I just sold my private practice, but now a friend wants me to serve on the staff of a legal aid clinic actively representing clients in our area. Can I?

Q. Do my duties of confidentiality to former clients continue even after I leave my firm?

A. Comment 7 to IRPC 1.9 states that a lawyer changing professional association has a continuing duty to preserve confidentiality of information about a client formerly represented. However, this duty may not preclude a lawyer from using generally known information about that client. (IRPC 1.9, comment [8]). Comment [9] to the rule also allows for the provisions of 1.9 to be waived if the client gives informed consent. For a full understanding, please see IRPC 1.9.

ISBA members can browse past ISBA Ethics Opinions, access our Ethics Hotline, and other resources on the ISBA Ethics Page.

DisclaimerThese questions are representative of calls received on the ISBA’s ethics hotline.  The information provided below is meant as an educational tool to highlight potentially applicable Illinois RPC or other ethics resources that might help the lawyer answer the question posed.  The information provided isn’t legal advice.  Because every situation is different, often complex, and the law is constantly evolving, you shouldn’t rely upon this general information without conducting your own research.