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Some portions of the collection may already be severely out of date, so please be cautious in your use of this material.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 - 1.8

Business Transactions Between Client and Lawyer

[1] A lawyer’s legal skill and training, together with the relationship of trust and confidence between lawyer and client, create the possibility of overreaching when the lawyer participates in a business, property or financial transaction with a client, for example, a loan or sales transaction or a lawyer investment on behalf of a client. The requirements of division (a) must be met even when the transaction is not closely related to the subject matter of the representation, as when a lawyer drafting a will for a client learns that the client needs money for unrelated expenses and offers to make a loan to the client. The rule applies to lawyers engaged in the sale of goods or services related to the practice of law, for example, the sale of title insurance or investment services to existing clients of the lawyer’s legal practice. See Rule 5.7. It also applies to lawyers purchasing property from estates they represent. It does not apply to ordinary fee arrangements between client and lawyer, which are governed by Rule 1.5, although its requirements must be met when the lawyer accepts an interest in the client’s business or other nonmonetary property as payment of all or part of a fee. In addition, the rule does not apply to standard commercial transactions between the lawyer and the client for products or services that the client generally markets to others, for example, banking or brokerage services, medical services, products manufactured or distributed by the client, and utilities’ services. In such transactions, the lawyer has no advantage in dealing with the client, and the restrictions in division (a) are unnecessary and impracticable.

[2] Division (a)(1) requires that the transaction itself be fair to the client and that its essential terms be communicated to the client, in writing, in a manner that can be reasonably understood. Division (a)(2) requires that the client also be advised, in writing, of the desirability of seeking the advice of independent legal counsel. It also requires that the client be given a reasonable opportunity to obtain such advice. Division (a)(3) requires that the lawyer obtain the client’s informed consent, in a writing signed by the client, both to the essential terms of the transaction and to the lawyer’s role. When necessary, the lawyer should discuss both the material risks of the proposed transaction, including any risk presented by the lawyer’s involvement, and the existence of reasonably available alternatives and should explain why the advice of independent legal counsel is desirable. See Rule 1.0(f) (definition of informed consent).

[3] The risk to a client is greatest when the client expects the lawyer to represent the client in the transaction itself or when the lawyer’s financial interest otherwise poses a significant risk that the lawyer’s representation of the client will be materially limited by the lawyer’s financial interest in the transaction. Here the lawyer’s role requires that the lawyer must comply, not only with the requirements of division (a), but also with the requirements of Rule 1.7. Under that rule, the lawyer must disclose the risks associated with the lawyer’s dual role as both legal adviser and participant in the transaction, such as the risk that the lawyer will structure the transaction or give legal advice in a way that favors the lawyer’s interests at the expense of the client. Moreover, the lawyer must obtain the client’s informed consent. In some cases, the lawyer’s interest may be such that Rule 1.7 will preclude the lawyer from seeking the client’s consent to the transaction.

[4] If the client is independently represented in the transaction, division (a)(2) of this rule is inapplicable, and the division (a)(1) requirement for full disclosure is satisfied either by a written disclosure by the lawyer involved in the transaction or by the client’s independent counsel. The fact that the client was independently represented in the transaction is relevant in determining whether the agreement was fair and reasonable to the client as division (a)(1) further requires.

Use of Information Related to Representation

[5] Use of information relating to the representation to the disadvantage of the client violates the lawyer’s duty of loyalty. See also Rule 1.9(b). Division (b) applies whether or not the information is used to benefit either the lawyer or a third person, such as another client or business associate of the lawyer. For example, if a lawyer learns that a client intends to purchase and develop several parcels of land, the lawyer may not use that information to purchase one of the parcels in competition with the client or to recommend that another client make such a purchase. The rule does not prohibit uses that do not disadvantage the client. For example, a lawyer who learns a government agency’s interpretation of a land-use regulation during the representation of one client may properly use that information to benefit other clients. Division (b) prohibits disadvantageous use of client information unless the client gives informed consent, except as permitted or required by these rules. See Rules 1.2(d), 1.6, 1.9(c), 3.3, 4.1(b), 8.1, and 8.3.

Gifts to Lawyers

[6] A lawyer may accept a gift from a client, if the transaction meets general standards of fairness. For example, a simple gift such as a present given at a holiday or as a token of appreciation is permitted. If a client offers the lawyer a more substantial gift, division (c) does not prohibit the lawyer from accepting it, although such a gift may be voidable by the client under the doctrine of undue influence, which treats client gifts as presumptively fraudulent. In any event, due to concerns about overreaching and imposition on clients, a lawyer may not suggest that a substantial gift be made to the lawyer or for the lawyer’s benefit, except where the lawyer is related to the client as set forth in division (c).

[7] If effectuation of a gift requires preparing a legal instrument such as a will or conveyance the client should have the detached advice that another lawyer can provide. The sole exception to this rule is where the client is a relative of the donee.

[8] This rule does not prohibit a lawyer from seeking to have the lawyer or a partner or associate of the lawyer named as executor of the client’s estate or to another potentially lucrative fiduciary position. Nevertheless, such appointments will be subject to the general conflict of interest provision in Rule 1.7 when there is a significant risk that the lawyer’s interest in obtaining the appointment will materially limit the lawyer’s independent professional judgment in advising the client concerning the choice of an executor or other fiduciary. In obtaining the client’s informed consent to the conflict, the lawyer should advise the client concerning the nature and extent of the lawyer’s financial interest in the appointment, as well as the availability of alternative candidates for the position.

Literary Rights

[9] An agreement by which a lawyer acquires literary or media rights concerning the conduct of the representation creates a conflict between the interests of the client and the personal interests of the lawyer. Measures suitable in the representation of the client may detract from the publication value of an account of the representation. Division (d) does not prohibit a lawyer representing a client in a transaction concerning literary property from agreeing that the lawyer’s fee shall consist of a share in ownership in the property, if the arrangement conforms to Rule 1.5 and divisions (a) and (i).

Financial Assistance

[10] Lawyers may not subsidize lawsuits or administrative proceedings brought on behalf of their clients, including making or guaranteeing loans to their clients for living expenses, because to do so would encourage clients to pursue lawsuits that might not otherwise be brought and because such assistance gives lawyers too great a financial stake in the litigation. These dangers do not warrant a prohibition on a lawyer lending a client court costs and litigation expenses, including the expenses of medical examination and the costs of obtaining and presenting evidence, because these advances are virtually indistinguishable from contingent fees and help ensure access to the courts. Similarly, an exception allowing lawyers representing indigent clients to pay court costs and litigation expenses regardless of whether these funds will be repaid is warranted.

Person Paying for a Lawyer’s Services

[11] Lawyers are frequently asked to represent a client under circumstances in which a third person will compensate the lawyer, in whole or in part. The third person might be a relative or friend, an indemnitor (such as a liability insurance company) or a co-client (such as a corporation sued along with one or more of its employees). Because third-party payers frequently have interests that differ from those of the client, including interests in minimizing the amount spent on the representation and in learning how the representation is progressing, lawyers are prohibited from accepting or continuing such representations unless the lawyer determines that there will be no interference with the lawyer’s independent professional judgment and there is informed consent from the client. See also Rule 5.4(c) (prohibiting interference with a lawyer’s professional judgment by one who recommends, employs or pays the lawyer to render legal services for another).

[12] Sometimes, it will be sufficient for the lawyer to obtain the client’s informed consent regarding the fact of the payment and the identity of the third-party payer. If, however, the fee arrangement creates a conflict of interest for the lawyer, then the lawyer must comply with Rule 1.7. The lawyer must also conform to the requirements of Rule 1.6 concerning confidentiality. Under Rule 1.7(a), a conflict of interest exists if there is substantial risk that the lawyer’s representation of the client will be materially limited by the lawyer’s own interest in the fee arrangement or by the lawyer’s responsibilities to the third-party payer (for example, when the third-party payer is a co-client). Under Rule 1.7(b), the lawyer may accept or continue the representation with the informed consent of each affected client, unless the conflict is nonconsentable under that paragraph. Under Rule 1.7(b), the informed consent must be confirmed in writing.

[12A] Divisions (f)(1) to (f)(3) apply to insurance defense counsel compensated by an insurer to defend an insured, subject to the unique aspects of that relationship. Whether employed or retained by an insurance company, insurance defense counsel owes the insured the same duties to avoid conflicts, keep confidences, exercise independent judgment, and communicate as a lawyer owes any other client. These duties are subject only to the rights of the insurer, if any, pursuant to the policy contract with its insured, to control the defense, receive information relating to the defense or settlement of the claim, and settle the case. Insurance defense counsel may not permit an insurer’s right to control the defense to compromise the lawyer’s independent judgment, for example, regarding the legal research or factual investigation necessary to support the defense. The lawyer may not permit an insurer’s right to receive information to result in the disclosure to the insurer, or its agent, of confidences of the insured. The insured’s consent to the insurer’s payment of defense counsel, required by Rule 1.8(f)(1), can be inferred from the policy contract. Nevertheless, an insured may not understand how defense counsel’s relationship with and duties to the insurer will affect the representation. Therefore, to ensure that such consent is informed, these rules require a lawyer who undertakes defense of an insured at the expense of an insurer to provide to the client insured, at the commencement of representation, the “Statement of Insured Client’s Rights.”

Aggregate Settlements

[13] Differences in willingness to make or accept an offer of settlement are among the risks of common representation of multiple clients by a single lawyer. Under Rule 1.7, this is one of the risks that should be discussed before undertaking the representation, as part of the process of obtaining the clients’ informed consent. In addition, Rule 1.2(a) protects each client’s right to have the final say in deciding whether to accept or reject an offer of settlement and in deciding whether to enter a guilty or nolo contendere plea in a criminal case. The rule stated in this paragraph is a corollary of both these rules and provides that, before any settlement offer or plea bargain is made or accepted on behalf of multiple clients, the lawyer must inform each of them about all the material terms of the settlement, including what the other clients will receive or pay if the settlement or plea offer is accepted. See also Rule 1.0(f) (definition of informed consent). Alternatively, where a settlement is subject to court approval, as in a class action, the interests of multiple clients are protected when the lawyer complies with applicable rules of civil procedure and orders of the court concerning review of the settlement.

Limiting Liability and Settling Malpractice Claims

[14] Agreements prospectively limiting a lawyer’s liability for malpractice are prohibited unless the client is independently represented in making the agreement because they are likely to undermine competent and diligent representation. Also, many clients are unable to evaluate the desirability of making such an agreement before a dispute has arisen, particularly if they are then represented by the lawyer seeking the agreement. Division (h)(1) also prohibits a lawyer from prospectively entering into an agreement with the client to arbitrate any claim unless the client is independently represented. This division, however, does not limit the ability of lawyers to practice in the form of a limited-liability entity, where permitted by law, provided that each lawyer remains personally liable to the client for his or her own conduct and the firm complies with any conditions required by law, such as provisions requiring client notification or maintenance of adequate liability insurance. Nor does it prohibit an agreement in accordance with Rule 1.2 that defines the scope of the representation, although a definition of scope that makes the obligations of representation illusory will amount to an attempt to limit liability.

[15] Agreements settling a claim or a potential claim for malpractice are not prohibited by this rule. However, the settlement may not be unconscionable, inequitable, or unfair, and, in view of the danger that a lawyer will take unfair advantage of an unrepresented client or former client, the lawyer must first advise such a person in writing of the appropriateness of independent representation in connection with such a settlement. In addition, the lawyer must give the client or former client a reasonable opportunity to find and consult independent counsel.

Acquiring Proprietary Interest in Litigation

[16] Division (i) states the traditional general rule that lawyers are prohibited from acquiring a proprietary interest in litigation. Like division (e), the general rule has its basis in common law champerty and maintenance and is designed to avoid giving the lawyer too great an interest in the representation. In addition, when the lawyer acquires an ownership interest in the subject of the representation, it will be more difficult for a client to discharge the lawyer if the client so desires. The rule is subject to specific exceptions developed in decisional law and continued in these rules. The exception for certain advances of the costs of litigation is set forth in division (e). In addition, division (i) sets forth exceptions for liens authorized by law to secure the lawyer’s fees or expenses and contracts for reasonable contingent fees. The law of each jurisdiction determines which liens are authorized by law. These may include liens granted by statute, liens originating in common law and liens acquired by contract with the client. When a lawyer acquires by contract a security interest in property other than that recovered through the lawyer’s efforts in the litigation, such an acquisition is a business or financial transaction with a client and is governed by the requirements of division (a). Contracts for contingent fees in civil cases are governed by Rule 1.5.

Client-Lawyer Sexual Relationships

[17] The relationship between lawyer and client is a fiduciary one in which the lawyer occupies the highest position of trust and confidence. The relationship is almost always unequal; thus, a sexual relationship between lawyer and client can involve unfair exploitation of the lawyer’s fiduciary role, in violation of the lawyer’s basic ethical obligation not to use the trust of the client to the client’s disadvantage. In addition, such a relationship presents a significant danger that, because of the lawyer’s emotional involvement, the lawyer will be unable to represent the client without impairment of the exercise of independent professional judgment. Moreover, a blurred line between the professional and personal relationships may make it difficult to predict to what extent client confidences will be protected by the attorney-client evidentiary privilege, since client confidences are protected by privilege only when they are imparted in the context of the client-lawyer relationship. Because of the significant danger of harm to client interests and because the client’s own emotional involvement renders it unlikely that the client could give adequate informed consent, this rule prohibits the lawyer from engaging in sexual activity with a client regardless of whether the relationship is consensual and regardless of the absence of prejudice to the client, unless the sexual relationship predates the client-lawyer relationship. A lawyer also is prohibited from soliciting a sexual relationship with a client.

[18] Sexual relationships that predate the client-lawyer relationship are not prohibited. Issues relating to the exploitation of the fiduciary relationship and client dependency are diminished when the sexual relationship existed prior to the commencement of the client-lawyer relationship. However, before proceeding with the representation in these circumstances, the lawyer should consider whether the lawyer’s ability to represent the client will be materially limited by the relationship. See Rule 1.7(a)(2).

[19] When the client is an organization, division (j) of this rule prohibits a lawyer for the organization (whether inside counsel or outside counsel) from having a sexual relationship with a constituent of the organization who supervises, directs, or regularly consults with that lawyer concerning the organization’s legal matters.

Imputation of Prohibitions

[20] Under division (k), a prohibition on conduct by an individual lawyer in divisions (a) to (i) also applies to all lawyers associated in a firm with the personally prohibited lawyer. For example, one lawyer in a firm may not enter into a business transaction with a client of another member of the firm without complying with division (a), even if the first lawyer is not personally involved in the representation of the client. The prohibition set forth in division (j) is personal and is not applied to associated lawyers.

Comparison to former Ohio Code of Professional Responsibility

With the exception of division (f)(4), each part of Rule 1.8 corresponds to an Ohio disciplinary rule or decided case, as stated below.

Rule 1.8(a) corresponds, in substance, to DR 5-104(A) and the ruling in Cincinnati Bar Assn v. Hartke (1993), 67 Ohio St.3d 65, except for the addition of a requirement that the client’s consent be in writing. This writing requirement is consistent with the requirement for confirmation of conflict waivers in Rule 1.7.

Rule 1.8(b) is similar to DR 4-101(B)(2), but the prohibition against adverse use of confidential information applies to all information relating to the representation, consistent with Rule 1.6(a). As suggested by Comment [5], these rules, unlike DR 4-101(B)(3), do not expressly prohibit the lawyer from using information relating to the representation for the benefit of the lawyer or another person. Because of the peril that such use would violate another duty that the lawyer has to the client (or to a third party, for example, by reason of a confidentiality agreement), lawyers should approach such issues carefully.

Rule 1.8(c) has been revised principally to conform it to the absolute ban, now stated in DR 5-101(A)(2), upon a lawyer’s preparing an instrument for a client by which a gift would be made to the lawyer, or a relative or colleague of the lawyer. DR 5-101(A)(2) does not prohibit a lawyer from soliciting a gift. The first portion of Rule 1.8(c) addresses a matter not specifically addressed in the Ohio Code in that Rule 1.8(c) would permit a lawyer to solicit an insubstantial gift from a client. This rule would permit, for example, a lawyer to request that a client make a small gift to a charity on whose board the lawyer serves, but not to abuse the attorney-client relationship by requesting a substantial gift.

Rule 1.8(d) is similar to DR 5-104(B), but creates greater latitude for a lawyer to enter a contract for publication or media rights with a client because Rule 1.8(d) prohibits making such an arrangement only during the representation, and only if the portrayal or account would be based, in substantial part, on information relating to the representation. In contrast, DR 5-104(B) forbids a lawyer to make any such arrangement during the pendency of the matter, even if the representation has ended.

Rule 1.8(e) is similar to DR 5-103(B). Unlike DR 5-103(B), Rule 1.8(e) expressly permits a lawyer to pay court costs and expenses on behalf of an indigent client.

Rule 1.8(f)(1), (2), and (3) use different terms, but are virtually identical to DR 5-107(A) and (B). Rule 1.8(f)(4) and the “Statement of Insured Client’s Rights” is new and is based on the reports of the Ohio State Bar Association’s House Counsel Task Force and the Insurance and Audit Practices and Controls Committee. Both reports were accepted by the House of Delegates of the Ohio State Bar Association.

Rule 1.8(g) corresponds to DR 5-106. Unlike DR 5-106, Rule 1.8(g) permits aggregate agreements in criminal cases and agreements subject to court approval.

Rule 1.8(h) corresponds to DR 6-102, as interpreted by the Supreme Court in Disciplinary Counsel v. Clavner (1997), 77 Ohio St.3d 431. Rule 1.8(h)(3) is based on Opinion 96-9 of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline.

Rule 1.8(i) corresponds to DR 5-103(A).

Rule 1.8(j) has no analogue in the Disciplinary Rules, but is consistent with the Supreme Court’s rulings in Cleveland Bar Assn v. Feneli (1999), 86 Ohio St.3d 102 and Disciplinary Counsel v. Moore (2004), 101 Ohio St.3d 261.

Rule 1.8(k) may be compared to DR 5-105(D).

Comparison to ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct

Rule 1.8 contains several changes from the Model Rule. Rule 1.8(c) is revised to conform to DR 5-101(A)(2). Rule 1.8(f)(4) references specific obligations of insurance defense counsel. Rule 1.8(h) conforms the rule—on the circumstances in which a lawyer may enter into an agreement with a client settling a claim against the lawyer—with Ohio law as stated in Clavner.

Division (f)(4) and a “Statement of Insured Client’s Rights” is added based on a recommendation from the Ohio State Bar Association’s House Counsel Task Force. Comment [12A] also is added to correspond to speak directly to the insurance defense lawyer’s ethical duties. The defense provided to an insured by a lawyer retained by an insurer is the most frequent situation in which a lawyer is paid by someone other than the lawyer’s client. The comment is based on Advisory Opinions 2000-2 and 2000-3 of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, as well as the Report of the House Counsel Task Force of the Ohio State Bar Association, as adopted by the OSBA House of Delegates in November 2002, which the Supreme Court charged the Task Force to review, and the Report of the OSBA’s Insurance and Audit Practices and Controls Committee, as adopted by the OSBA House of Delegates in May 2004.