RPC 1.6: CONFIDENTIALITY OF INFORMATION

(a) A lawyer shall not reveal 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).

(b) A lawyer to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary:

(1) shall reveal information relating to the representation of a client to prevent reasonably certain death or substantial bodily harm;

(2) may reveal information relating to the representation of a client to prevent the client from committing a crime;

(3) may reveal information relating to the representation of a client to prevent, mitigate or rectify substantial injury to the financial interests or property 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) may reveal information relating to the representation of a client to secure legal advice about the lawyer's compliance with these Rules;

(5) may reveal information relating to the representation of a client 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) may reveal information relating to the representation of a client to comply with a court order; or

(7) may reveal information relating to the representation of a client to inform a tribunal about any breach of fiduciary responsibility when the client is serving as a court appointed fiduciary such as a guardian, personal representative, or receiver.

[Originally effective September 1, 1985; amended effective September 1, 1990; September 1, 2006.]

Comment

See also Washington Comment [19].

[1] [Washington revision] This Rule governs the disclosure by a lawyer of information relating to the representation of a client. See Rule 1.18 for the lawyer's duties with respect to information provided to the lawyer by a prospective client, Rule 1.9(c)(2) for the lawyer's duty not to reveal 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.

[2] [Washington revision] A fundamental principle in the client-lawyer relationship is that, in the absence of the client's informed consent, the lawyer must not reveal information relating to the representation. See Rule 1.0A(e) 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. Almost without exception, clients come to lawyers in order to determine their rights and what is, in the complex of laws and regulations, deemed to be legal and correct. Based upon experience, lawyers know that almost all clients follow the advice given, and the law is upheld. [Comment [2] amended effective April 14, 2015.]

[3] The principle of client-lawyer confidentiality is given effect by related bodies of law: the attorney-client privilege, the work product doctrine and the rule of confidentiality established in professional ethics. 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 applies in situations other than those where evidence is sought from the lawyer through compulsion of law. The confidentiality rule, for example, applies not only to matters communicated in confidence by the client but also to all information relating to the representation, whatever its source. A lawyer may not disclose such information except as authorized or required by the Rules of Professional Conduct. See also Scope. [Comment [3] amended effective September 1, 2011.]

[4] Paragraph (a) prohibits a lawyer from revealing 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.

Authorized Disclosure

[5] [Washington revision] 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 information relating to a client of the firm to other lawyers or LLLTs within the firm, unless the client has instructed that particular information be confined to specified lawyers or LLLTs. [Comment [5] amended effective April 14, 2015.]

Disclosure Adverse to Client

[6] [Washington revision] 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 requires 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 must reveal this information to the authorities 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.

[7] [Reserved.]

[8] [Reserved.]

[9] 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 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.

[10] 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.

[11] 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.

[12] [Reserved.]

[13] [Washington revision] A lawyer may be ordered to reveal information relating to the representation of a client by a court. Absent informed consent of the client to do otherwise, the lawyer should assert on behalf of the client all nonfrivolous claims that the 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. See also Washington Comment [24].

[14] 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 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.

[15] [Washington revision] Paragraphs (b)(2) through (b)(7) permit but do not require the disclosure of information relating to a client's representation to accomplish the purposes specified in those paragraphs. In exercising the discretion conferred by those paragraphs, the lawyer may consider such factors as the nature of the lawyer's relationship with the client and with those who might be injured by the client, the lawyer's own involvement in the transaction and factors that may extenuate the conduct in question. 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. Some Rules require disclosure only if such disclosure would be permitted by paragraph (b). See Rules 1.2(d), 3.3, 4.1(b), and 8.1. See also Rule 1.13(c), which permits disclosure in some circumstances whether or not Rule 1.6 permits the disclosure. See also Washington Comment [23]. Acting Competently to Preserve Confidentiality

[16] A lawyer must act competently to safeguard information relating to the representation of a client 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. [17] When transmitting a communication that includes information relating to the representation of a client, the lawyer must take reasonable precautions to prevent the 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.

Former Client

[18] 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. Additional Washington Comments (19 - 26)

[19] The phrase "information relating to the representation" should be interpreted broadly. The "information" protected by this Rule includes, but is not necessarily limited to, confidences and secrets. "Confidence" refers to information protected by the attorney client privilege under applicable law, and "secret" refers to other information gained in the professional relationship that the client has requested be held inviolate or the disclosure of which would be embarrassing or would be likely to be detrimental to the client.

Disclosure Adverse to Client

[20] Washington's Rule 1.6(b)(2), which authorizes disclosure to prevent a client from committing a crime, is significantly broader than the corresponding exception in the Model Rule. While the Model Rule permits a lawyer to reveal information relating to the representation to prevent the client from "committing a crime . . . that is reasonably certain to result in substantial injury to the financial interests or property of another and in furtherance of which the client has used the lawyer's services," Washington's Rule permits the lawyer to reveal such information to prevent the commission of any crime.

[21] [Reserved.]

[22] [Reserved.]

[23] The exceptions to the general rule prohibiting unauthorized disclosure of information relating to the representation "should not be carelessly invoked." In re Boelter, 139 Wn.2d 81, 91, 985 P.2d 328 (1999). A lawyer must make every effort practicable to avoid unnecessary disclosure of information relating to a representation, to limit disclosure to those having the need to know it, and to obtain protective orders or make other arrangements minimizing the risk of avoidable disclosure.

[24] Washington has not adopted that portion of Model Rule 1.6(b)(6) permitting a lawyer to reveal information related to the representation to comply with "other law." Washington's omission of this phrase arises from a concern that it would authorize the lawyer to decide whether a disclosure is required by "other law," even though the right to confidentiality and the right to waive confidentiality belong to the client. The decision to waive confidentiality should only be made by a fully informed client after consultation with the client's lawyer or by a court of competent jurisdiction. Limiting the exception to compliance with a court order protects the client's interest in maintaining confidentiality while insuring that any determination about the legal necessity of revealing confidential information will be made by a court. It is the need for a judicial resolution of such issues that necessitates the omission of "other law" from this Rule.

Withdrawal

[25] After withdrawal the lawyer is required to refrain from disclosing the client's confidences, except as otherwise permitted by Rules 1.6 or 1.9. A lawyer is not prohibited from giving notice of the fact of withdrawal by this Rule, Rule 1.8(b), or Rule 1.9(c). If the lawyer's services will be used by the client in furthering a course of criminal or fraudulent conduct, the lawyer must withdraw. See Rule 1.16(a)(1). Upon withdrawal from the representation in such circumstances, the lawyer may also disaffirm or withdraw any opinion, document, affirmation, or the like. If the client is an organization, the lawyer may be in doubt about whether contemplated conduct will actually be carried out by the organization. When a lawyer requires guidance about compliance with this Rule in connection with an organizational client, the lawyer may proceed under the provisions of Rule 1.13(b).

Other

[26] This Rule does not relieve a lawyer of his or her obligations under Rule 5.4(b) of the Rules for Enforcement of Lawyer Conduct.

[Comments adopted effective September 1, 2006.]

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