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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 - 1.9

[1] After termination of a client lawyer relationship, a lawyer has certain continuing duties with respect to confidentiality and conflicts of interest and thus may not represent another client except in conformity with this rule. Under this rule, for example, a lawyer could not properly seek to rescind on behalf of a new client a contract drafted on behalf of the former client. So also a lawyer who has prosecuted an accused person could not properly represent the accused in a subsequent civil action against the government concerning the same transaction. Nor could a lawyer who has represented multiple clients in a matter represent one of the clients against the others in the same or a substantially related matter after a dispute arose among the clients in that matter, unless all affected clients give informed consent, confirmed in writing. See Comment [9]. Current and former government lawyers must comply with this rule to the extent required by Rule 1.11.

[2] The scope of a “matter” for purposes of this rule depends on the facts of a particular situation or transaction. The lawyer’s involvement in a matter can also be a question of degree. When a lawyer has been directly involved in a specific transaction, subsequent representation of other clients with materially adverse interests in that transaction clearly is prohibited. On the other hand, a lawyer who recurrently handled a type of problem for a former client is not precluded from later representing another client in a factually distinct problem of that type even though the subsequent representation involves a position adverse to the prior client. Similar considerations can apply to the reassignment of military lawyers between defense and prosecution functions within the same military jurisdictions. The underlying question is whether the lawyer was so involved in the matter that the subsequent representation can be justly regarded as a changing of sides in the matter in question. For a former government lawyer, “matter” is defined in Rule 1.11(e).

[3] See Rule 1.0(n) for a definition of “substantially related matter”. For example, a lawyer who has represented a businessperson and learned extensive private financial information about that person may not then represent that person’s spouse in seeking a divorce. Similarly, a lawyer who has previously represented a client in securing environmental permits to build a shopping center would be precluded from representing neighbors seeking to oppose rezoning of the property on the basis of environmental considerations; however, the lawyer would not be precluded, on the grounds of substantial relationship, from defending a tenant of the completed shopping center in resisting eviction for nonpayment of rent. Information that has been disclosed to the public or to other parties adverse to the former client ordinarily will not be disqualifying. Information acquired in a prior representation may have been rendered obsolete by the passage of time, a circumstance that may be relevant in determining whether two representations are substantially related. In the case of an organizational client, general knowledge of the client’s policies and practices ordinarily will not preclude a subsequent representation; on the other hand, knowledge of specific facts gained in a prior representation that are relevant to the matter in question ordinarily will preclude such a representation. A former client is not required to reveal the confidential information learned by the lawyer in order to establish a substantial risk that the lawyer has confidential information to use in the subsequent matter. A conclusion about the possession of such information may be based on the nature of the services the lawyer provided the former client and information that would in ordinary practice be learned by a lawyer providing such services.

Lawyers Moving Between Firms

[4] When lawyers have been associated within a firm but then end their association, the question of whether a lawyer should undertake representation is more complicated. There are several competing considerations. First, the client previously represented by the former firm must be reasonably assured that the principle of loyalty to the client is not compromised. Second, the rule should not be so broadly cast as to preclude other persons from having reasonable choice of legal counsel. Third, the rule should not unreasonably hamper lawyers from forming new associations and taking on new clients after having left a previous association. In this connection, it should be recognized that today many lawyers practice in firms, that many lawyers to some degree limit their practice to one field or another, and that many move from one association to another several times in their careers. If the concept of imputation were applied with unqualified rigor, the result would be radical curtailment of the opportunity of lawyers to move from one practice setting to another and of the opportunity of clients to change counsel.

[5] Division (b) operates to disqualify the lawyer only when the lawyer involved has actual knowledge of information protected by Rules 1.6 and 1.9(c). Thus, if a lawyer while with one firm acquired no knowledge or information relating to a particular client of the firm, and that lawyer later joined another firm, neither the lawyer individually nor the second firm is disqualified from representing another client in the same or a related matter even though the interests of the two clients conflict. See Rule 1.10(b) for the restrictions on a firm once a lawyer has terminated association with the firm.

[6] Application of division (b) depends on a situation’s particular facts, aided by inferences, deductions, or working presumptions that reasonably may be made about the way in which lawyers work together. A lawyer may have general access to files of all clients of a law firm and may regularly participate in discussions of their affairs; it should be inferred that such a lawyer in fact is privy to all information about all the firm’s clients. In contrast, another lawyer may have access to the files of only a limited number of clients and participate in discussions of the affairs of no other clients; in the absence of information to the contrary, it should be inferred that such a lawyer in fact is privy to information about the clients actually served but not those of other clients. In such an inquiry, the burden of proof should rest upon the lawyer whose disqualification is sought.

[7] Independent of the question of disqualification of a firm, a lawyer changing professional association has a continuing duty to preserve confidentiality of information about a client formerly represented. See Rules 1.6 and 1.9(c).

[8] Division (c) provides that information acquired by the lawyer in the course of representing a client may not subsequently be used or revealed by the lawyer to the disadvantage of the client. However, the fact that a lawyer has once served a client does not preclude the lawyer from using generally known information about that client when later representing another client.

[9] The provisions of this rule are for the protection of former clients and can be waived if the client gives informed consent, which consent must be confirmed in writing under divisions (a) and (b). See Rule 1.0(f). With regard to the effectiveness of an advance waiver, see Comment [33] to Rule 1.7. With regard to disqualification of a firm with which a lawyer is or was formerly associated, see Rule 1.10.

Comparison to former Ohio Code of Professional Responsibility

Rule 1.9 addresses the lawyer’s continuing duty of client confidentiality when the lawyer-client relationship ends. The rule articulates the substantial relationship test adopted by the Supreme Court in Kala v. Aluminum Smelting & Refining Co., Inc. (1998), 81 Ohio St. 3d 1, citing with approval Advisory Opinion 89-013 of the Board of Commissioners on Grievances and Discipline, which also relied on the substantial relationship test to judge former client conflicts.

In Kala, the Court extended the confidentiality protection of DR 4-101 to former clients by creating a presumption of shared confidences between the former client and lawyer [Rule 1.9(a)]. It further held that this presumption could be rebutted by evidence that the lawyer had no personal contact with or knowledge of the former client matter [Rule 1.9(b)]. In doing so it clarified that the DR 4-101(B) prohibition against using or revealing client confidences or secrets without consent applied to former clients [Rule 1.9(c)].

Kala did not address the issue of what constitutes a substantial relationship, because the lawyer in question switched sides in the same case. The comments are consistent with appellate decisions, as well as with the Restatement (Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers §132 (2000). The only change from current Ohio law is the requirement that conflict waivers be “confirmed in writing,” consistent with other conflict provisions such as Rules 1.7 and 1.8.

Division (a) restates the substantial relationship test, which extends confidentiality protection to clients the lawyer has formerly represented. This test presumes that the lawyer obtained and cannot use information relating to the representation of the former client in the same or substantially related matters, the first prong of the Kala test.

Division (b) applies where the lawyer’s firm (but not the lawyer personally) represented a client, and requires that the former client show that the lawyer in question actually acquired confidential information, the second prong of the Kala test.

Division (c) provides that in either actual or law firm prior representation, the prohibitions against use [Model Rule 1.8(b)] and disclosure (Model Rule 1.6) that protect current clients also extend to former clients. This is the foundation of the Kala opinion, which extended the prohibitions against use or disclosure of client confidences or secrets in DR 4-101(B) to former clients.

Comparison to ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct

Rule 1.9 is substantively identical to Model Rule 1.9. The definition of “substantially related matter,” which appears in Comment [3] of the Model Rule is moved to Rule 1.0(n).