skip navigation

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.

We regret any inconvenience.

Some portions of the collection may already be severely out of date, so please be cautious in your use of this material.

Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct

Comment - 1.18

[1] Prospective clients, like clients, may disclose information to a lawyer, place documents or other property in the lawyer’s custody, or rely on the lawyer’s advice. A lawyer’s discussions with a prospective client usually are limited in time and depth and leave both the prospective client and the lawyer free (and sometimes required) to proceed no further. Hence, prospective clients should receive some but not all of the protection afforded clients.

[2] Not all persons who communicate information to a lawyer are entitled to protection under this rule. A person who communicates information unilaterally to a lawyer, without any reasonable expectation that the lawyer is willing to discuss the possibility of forming a client-lawyer relationship, is not a “prospective client” within the meaning of division (a).

[3] It is often necessary for a prospective client to reveal information to the lawyer during an initial consultation prior to the decision about formation of a client-lawyer relationship. The lawyer often must learn such information to determine whether there is a conflict of interest with an existing client and whether the matter is one that the lawyer is willing to undertake. Division (b) prohibits the lawyer from using or revealing that information, except as permitted by Rule 1.9, even if the client or lawyer decides not to proceed with the representation. The duty exists regardless of how brief the initial conference may be.

[4] In order to avoid acquiring disqualifying information from a prospective client, a lawyer considering whether or not to undertake a new matter should limit the initial interview to only such information as reasonably appears necessary for that purpose. Where the information indicates that a conflict of interest or other reason for nonrepresentation exists, the lawyer should so inform the prospective client or decline the representation. If the prospective client wishes to retain the lawyer, and if consent is possible under Rule 1.7, then consent from all affected present or former clients must be obtained before accepting the representation.


[6] Under division (c), the lawyer is not prohibited from representing a client with interests adverse to those of the prospective client in the same or a substantially related matter unless the lawyer has received from the prospective client information that could be significantly harmful if used in the matter.

[7] Under division (c), the prohibition in this rule is imputed to other lawyers as provided in Rule 1.10, but, under division (d)(1), imputation may be avoided if the lawyer obtains the informed consent, confirmed in writing, of both the prospective and affected clients. In the alternative, imputation may be avoided if the conditions of division (d)(2) are met and all disqualified lawyers are timely screened and written notice is promptly given to the prospective client. See Rule 1.0(l) (requirements for screening procedures). Division (d)(2)(i) does not prohibit the screened lawyer from receiving a salary or partnership share established by prior independent agreement, but that lawyer may not receive compensation directly related to the matter in which the lawyer is disqualified.

[8] Notice, including a general description of the subject matter about which the lawyer was consulted and of the screening procedures employed, generally should be given as soon as practicable after the need for screening becomes apparent.

[9] For the duty of competence of a lawyer who gives assistance on the merits of a matter to a prospective client, see Rule 1.1. For a lawyer’s duties when a prospective client entrusts valuables or papers to the lawyer’s care, see Rule 1.15.

Comparison to former Ohio Code of Professional Responsibility

Rule 1.18 addresses the lawyer’s duty relating to the formation of the client-lawyer relationship. This duty implicates the lawyer’s obligations addressed by Canon 4 (confidentiality) and Canon 6 (competence) of the Code of Professional Responsibility. The only mention of prospective clients in the Ohio Code occurs in EC 4-1, which states that “[b]oth the fiduciary relationship existing between lawyer and client and the proper functioning of the legal system require the preservation by the lawyer of confidences and secrets of one who has employed or sought to employ him.” To the extent the Code encourages seeking legal advice as soon as possible, it does not provide a clear statement as to when the lawyer-client relationship is established so as to determine when the lawyer’s duty of confidentiality arises. However, Ohio case law indicates that the lawyer-client relationship may be created by implication based upon the conduct of the parties and the reasonable expectations of the person seeking representation. See e.g., Cuyahoga County Bar Assn v. Hardiman, 100 Ohio St.3d 260, 2003-Ohio-5596. Therefore, Rule 1.18 does not materially change the current law of Ohio, but clarifies the directives set forth by the Supreme Court in Hardiman.

Comparison to ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct

Rule 1.18 attempts to address the realities of the practice of law. There are no substantive changes between Rule 1.18 and the Model Rule. Rule 1.18 defines a “prospective client.” Rule 1.18(b) prohibits the lawyer from using or revealing information learned in the consultation when no professional relationship ensues. This prohibition applies regardless of whether the information learned in the consultation may be defined as a “confidence or secret.” Rule 1.18(c) disqualifies the lawyer from representing a client in “the same or a substantially related matter” when that client’s interests are “materially adverse to those of a prospective client” and the “information received” is harmful to the prospective client in the matter, and prohibits lawyers in the disqualifying lawyer’s law firm from “knowingly undertaking or continuing representation in such a matter.” Rule 1.18(d) negates the disqualification if appropriate “notice” is provided to the affected parties and “screening” established to eliminate the potential harm from the use of the information learned during the consultation.

Comment [5] of Model Rule 1.18 is stricken.