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End-of-life notice: American Legal Ethics Library

As of March 1, 2013, the Legal Information Institute is no longer maintaining the information in the American Legal Ethics Library. It is no longer possible for us to maintain it at a level of completeness and accuracy given its staffing needs. It is very possible that we will revive it at a future time. At this point, it is in need of a complete technological renovation and reworking of the "correspondent firm" model which successfully sustained it for many years.

Many people have contributed time and effort to the project over the years, and we would like to thank them. In particular, Roger Cramton and Peter Martin not only conceived ALEL but gave much of their own labor to it. We are also grateful to Brad Wendel for his editorial contributions, to Brian Toohey and all at Jones Day for their efforts, and to all of our correspondents and contributors. Thank you.

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Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct

Comment - Rule 3.08

1. A lawyer who is considering accepting or continuing employment in a contemplated or pending adjudicatory proceeding in which that lawyer knows or believes that he or she may be a necessary witness is obligated by this Rule to consider the possible consequences of those dual roles for both the lawyer's own client and for opposing parties.

2. One important variable in this context is the anticipated tenor of the lawyer's testimony. If that testimony will be substantially adverse to the client, paragraphs (b) and (c) provide the governing standard. In other situations, paragraphs (a) and (c) control.

3. A lawyer who is considering both representing a client in an adjudicatory proceeding and serving as a witness in that proceeding may possess information pertinent to the representation that would be substantially adverse to the client were it to be disclosed. A lawyer who believes that he or she will be compelled to furnish testimony concerning such matters should not continue to act as an advocate for his or her client except with the client's informed consent, because of the substantial likelihood that such adverse testimony would damage the lawyer's ability to represent the client effectively.

4. In all other circumstances, the principal concern over allowing a lawyer to serve as both an advocate and witness for a client is the possible confusion that those dual roles could create for the finder of fact. Normally those dual roles are unlikely to create exceptional difficulties when the lawyer's testimony is limited to the areas set out in sub-paragraphs (a)(1)-(4) of this Rule. If, however, the lawyer's testimony concerns a controversial or contested matter, combining the roles of advocate and witness can unfairly prejudice the opposing party. A witness is required to testify on the basis of personal knowledge, while an advocate is expected to explain and comment on evidence given by others. It may not be clear whether a statement by an advocate-witness should be taken as proof or as an analysis of the proof.

5. Paragraph (a)(1) recognizes that if the testimony will be uncontested, the ambiguities in the dual role are purely theoretical. Paragraph (a)(2) recognizes that similar considerations apply if a lawyer's testimony relates solely to a matter of formality and there is no reason to believe that substantial opposing evidence will be offered. In each of those situations requiring the involvement of another lawyer would be a costly procedure that would serve no significant countervailing purpose.

6. Sub-paragraph (a)(3) recognizes that where the testimony concerns the extent and value of legal services rendered in the action in which the testimony is offered, permitting the lawyers to testify avoids the need for a second trial with new counsel to resolve that issue. Moreover, in such a situation the judge has firsthand knowledge of the matter in issue; hence, there is less dependence on the adversary process to test the credibility of the testimony. Sub-paragraph (a)(4) makes it clear that this Rule is not intended to affect a lawyer's right to self representation.

7. Apart from these four exceptions, sub-paragraph (a)(5) recognizes an additional exception based upon a balancing of the interests of the client and those of the opposing party. In implementing this exception, it is relevant that one or both parties could reasonably foresee that the lawyer would probably be a witness. For example, sub-paragraph (a)(5) requires that a lawyer relying on that sub-paragraph as a basis for serving as both an advocate and a witness for a party give timely notification of that fact to opposing counsel. That requirement serves two purposes. First, it prevents the testifying lawyer from creating a "substantial hardship," where none once existed, by virtue of a lengthy representation of the client in the matter at hand. Second, it puts opposing parties on notice of the situation, thus enabling them to make any desired response at the earliest opportunity.

8. This rule does not prohibit the lawyer who may or will be a witness from participating in the preparation of a matter for presentation to a tribunal. To minimize the possibility of unfair prejudice to an opposing party, however, the Rule prohibits any testifying lawyer who could not serve as an advocate from taking an active role before the tribunal in the presentation of the matter. See paragraph (c). Even in those situations, however, another lawyer in the testifying lawyer's firm may act as an advocate, provided the client's informed consent is obtained.

9. Rule 3.08 sets out a disciplinary standard and is not well suited to use as a standard for procedural disqualification. As a disciplinary rule it serves two principal purposes. The first is to insure that a client's case is not compromised by being represented by a lawyer who could be a more effective witness for the client by not also serving as an advocate. See paragraph (a). The second is to insure that a client is not burdened by counsel who may have to offer testimony that is substantially adverse to the client's cause. See paragraph (b).

10. This Rule may furnish some guidance in those procedural disqualification disputes where the party seeking disqualification can demonstrate actual prejudice to itself resulting from the opposing lawyer's service in the dual roles. However, it should not be used as a tactical weapon to deprive the opposing party of the right to be represented by the lawyer of his or her choice. For example, a lawyer should not seek to disqualify an opposing lawyer under this Rule merely because the opposing lawyer's dual roles may involve an improper conflict of interest with respect to the opposing lawyer's client, for that is a matter to be resolved between lawyer and client or in a subsequent disciplinary proceeding. Likewise, a lawyer should not seek to disqualify an opposing lawyer by unnecessarily calling that lawyer as a witness. Such unintended applications of this Rule, if allowed, would subvert its true purpose by converting it into a mere tactical weapon in litigation.