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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.

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Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct

Comment - 1.6

[1] This rule governs the disclosure by a lawyer of information relating to the representation of a client during the lawyer’s representation of the 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] 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 1.0(f) 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.

[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 Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct or other law. See also Scope.

[4] Division (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] 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 to each other information relating to a client of the firm, unless the client has instructed that particular information be confined to specified lawyers.

Disclosure Adverse to Client

[6] Permitting lawyers to reveal information relating to the representation of clients may create a chilling effect on the client-lawyer relationship, and discourage clients from revealing confidential information to their lawyers at a time when the clients should be making a full disclosure. 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. Division (b)(1) recognizes the overriding value of life and physical integrity and permits 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 discharged toxic waste into a town’s water supply may 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] Division (b)(2) recognizes the traditional “future crime” exception, which permits lawyers to reveal the information necessary to prevent the commission of the crime by a client or a third party.

[8] Division (b)(3) addresses the situation in which the lawyer does not learn of the illegal or fraudulent act of a client until after the client has used the lawyer’s services to further it. Although the client no longer has the option of preventing disclosure by refraining from the wrongful conduct [see Rule 4.1], there will be situations in which the loss suffered by the affected person can be mitigated. In such situations, the lawyer may disclose information relating to the representation to the extent necessary to enable the affected persons to mitigate or recoup their losses. Division (b)(3) does not apply when a person is accused of or has committed an illegal or fraudulent act and thereafter employs a lawyer for representation concerning that conduct. In addition, division (b)(3) does not apply to a lawyer who has been engaged by an organizational client to investigate an alleged violation of law by the client or a constituent of the client.

[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, division (b)(4) permits such disclosure because of the importance of a lawyer’s compliance with the Ohio Rules of Professional Conduct.

[10] Where a legal claim or disciplinary charge alleges complicity of the lawyer in the conduct of a client or a former client or other misconduct of the lawyer involving representation of the client or a former client, the lawyer may respond to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary to establish a defense. 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. Division (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 division (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] Other law may require that a lawyer disclose information about a client. Whether such a law supersedes Rule 1.6 is a question of law beyond the scope of these rules. When disclosure of information relating to the representation appears to be required by other law, the lawyer must discuss the matter with the client to the extent required by Rule 1.4. If, however, the other law supersedes this rule and requires disclosure, division (b)(6) permits the lawyer to make such disclosures as are necessary to comply with the law.

[13] A lawyer may be ordered to reveal information relating to the representation of a client by a court or by another tribunal or governmental entity claiming authority pursuant to other law to compel the disclosure. Absent informed consent of the client to do otherwise, the lawyer should assert on behalf of the client all nonfrivolous claims that the order is not authorized by other law or 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, division (b)(6) permits the lawyer to comply with the court’s order.

[14] Division (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. 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. Before making a disclosure under division (b)(1), (2), or (3), a lawyer for an organization should ordinarily bring the issue of taking suitable action to higher authority within the organization, including, if warranted by the circumstances, to the highest authority that can act on behalf of the organization as determined by applicable law.

[15] Division (b) permits but does not require the disclosure of information relating to a client’s representation to accomplish the purposes specified in divisions (b)(1) through (b)(6). In exercising the discretion conferred by this rule, 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 division (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 division (b). See Rules 4.1(b), 8.1 and 8.3. Rule 3.3, on the other hand, requires disclosure in some circumstances regardless of whether such disclosure is permitted by this rule.

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.

Comparison to former Ohio Code of Professional Responsibility

Rule 1.6 replaces Canon 4 (A Lawyer Should Preserve the Confidences and Secrets of a Client), including DR 4-101 (Preservation of Confidences and Secrets of a Client) and ECs 4-1 to 4-6 of the Ohio Code of Professional Responsibility.

Rule 1.6(a) generally corresponds to DR 4-101(A) by protecting the confidences and secrets of a client under the rubric of “information relating to the representation.” To clarify that this includes privileged information, the rule is amended to add the phrase, “including information protected by the attorney-client privilege under applicable law.” Rule 1.6(a) also corresponds to DR 4-101(B) by prohibiting the lawyer from revealing such information. Use of client information is governed by Rule 1.8(b).

Rule 1.6(a) further corresponds to DR 4-101(C)(1) by exempting disclosures where the client gives “informed consent,” including situations where disclosure is “impliedly authorized” by the client’s informed consent.

Rule 1.6(b) addresses the exceptions to confidentiality and generally corresponds to DR 4-101(C)(2) to (4). Rule 1.6(b)(1) is new and has no comparable Code provision. Rule 1.6(b)(2) is the future crime exception and corresponds to DR 4-101(C)(3), with the addition of “or other person” from the Model Rule. Rule 1.6(b)(3) expands on the provisions of DR 7-102(B)(1) by permitting disclosure of information related to the representation of a client, including privileged information, to mitigate substantial injury to the financial interests or property of another that has been caused by the client’s illegal or fraudulent act and the client has used the lawyer’s services to further the commission of the illegal or fraudulent act.

Rule 1.6(b)(4) is new, and codifies the common practice of lawyers to consult with other lawyers about compliance with these rules. Rule 1.6(b)(5) tracks DR 4-101(C)(4), adding “any disciplinary matter” to clarify the rule’s application in that situation. Rule 1.6(b)(6) is the same as DR 4-101(C)(2).

Rule 1.6(c) makes explicit that other rules create mandatory rather than discretionary disclosure duties. For example, Rules 3.3 and 4.1 correspond to DR 7-102(B), which requires disclosure of client fraud in certain circumstances.

Comparison to ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct

The additions to Rule 1.6(a) are intended to clarify that “information relating to the representation” includes information protected by the attorney-client privilege.

The exceptions to confidentiality in Rule 1.6(b) generally track those found in the Model Rule, although two of Ohio’s exceptions [Rules 1.6(b)(2) and (3)] permit more disclosure than the Model Rule allows.

Rule 1.6(b)(1) is the same as the Model Rule and reflects the policy that threatened death or serious bodily harm, regardless of criminality, create the occasion for a lawyer’s discretionary disclosure. Nineteen jurisdictions have such a provision.

Rule 1.6(b)(2) differs from the Model Rule by maintaining the traditional formulation of the future crime exception currently found in DR 4-101(C)(3), rather than the future crime/fraud provision in Model Rule 1.6(b)(2) that is tied to “substantial injury to the financial interests of another.” Twenty-two jurisdictions, including Ohio, opt for this stand-alone future crime exception. This exception is retained because it mirrors the public policy embodied in the criminal law.

Rule 1.6(b)(3) differs from Model Rule 1.6(b)(3) in two ways: it deletes the words “prevent” and “rectify;” and it allows for disclosure to mitigate the effects of the client’s commission of an illegal (as opposed to criminal) or fraudulent act. The prevention of fraud is deleted from Rule 1.6(b)(3) because it is addressed in Rule 4.1(b). The extension of “criminal” to “illegal” is consistent with the use of the term “illegal” in Rules 1.2(d), 1.16(b), 4.1(b), and 8.4(b), but it is not found in either the Model Rule or Ohio disciplinary rules as an exception to confidentiality. Only two jurisdictions have included illegal conduct as justification for disclosure in Rule 1.6.

Rule 1.6(b)(4) is similar to the Model Rule.

Rule 1.6(b)(5) adds “disciplinary matter” to clarify the application of the exception.

Rule 1.6(c) is substantially the same as Model Rule 1.6(b)(6), except that it clarifies the mandatory disclosure required by other rules.