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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 - 3.7

[1] Combining the roles of advocate and witness can prejudice the tribunal and the opposing party and can also involve a conflict of interest between the lawyer and client.

Advocate-Witness Rule

[2] The tribunal has proper objection when the trier of fact may be confused or misled by a lawyer serving as both advocate and witness. The opposing party has proper objection where the combination of roles may prejudice that party’s rights in the litigation. 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.

[3] To protect the tribunal, division (a) prohibits a lawyer from simultaneously serving as counsel and necessary witness except in those circumstances specified in divisions (a)(1) to (3). Division (a)(1) recognizes that if the testimony will be uncontested, the ambiguities in the dual role are purely theoretical. Division (a)(2) 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.

[4] Apart from these exceptions, division (a)(3) recognizes that a balancing is required between the interests of the client and those of the tribunal and the opposing party. Whether the tribunal is likely to be misled or the opposing party is likely to suffer prejudice depends on the nature of the case, the importance and probable tenor of the lawyer’s testimony, and the probability that the lawyer’s testimony will conflict with that of other witnesses. Even if there is risk of such prejudice, in determining whether the lawyer should be disqualified, due regard must be given to the effect of disqualification on the lawyer’s client.

[5] Because the tribunal is not likely to be misled when a lawyer acts as advocate in a trial in which another lawyer in the lawyer’s firm will testify as a necessary witness, division (b) permits the lawyer to do so except in situations involving a conflict of interest.

Conflict of Interest

[6] In determining if it is permissible to act as advocate in a trial in which the lawyer will be a necessary witness, the lawyer also must consider that the dual role may give rise to a conflict of interest that will require compliance with Rule 1.7 or 1.9. For example, if there is likely to be substantial conflict between the testimony of the client and that of the lawyer, the representation involves a conflict of interest that requires compliance with Rule 1.7. This would be true even though the lawyer might not be prohibited by division (a) from simultaneously serving as advocate and witness because the lawyer’s disqualification would work a substantial hardship on the client. Similarly, a lawyer who might be permitted to serve simultaneously as an advocate and witness by division (a)(3) might be precluded from doing so by Rule 1.9. The problem can arise whether the lawyer is called as a witness on behalf of the client or is called by the opposing party. Determining whether such a conflict exists is primarily the responsibility of the lawyer involved. If there is a conflict of interest, the lawyer must secure the client’s informed consent, confirmed in writing. In some cases, the lawyer will be precluded from seeking the client’s consent. See Rule 1.7. See Rule 1.0(b) for the definition of “confirmed in writing” and Rule 1.0(f) for the definition of “informed consent.”

[7] Division (b) provides that a lawyer is not disqualified from serving as an advocate because a lawyer with whom the lawyer is associated in a firm is precluded from doing so by division (a). If, however, the testifying lawyer also would be disqualified by Rule 1.7 or 1.9 from representing the client in the matter, other lawyers in the firm will be precluded from representing the client by Rule 1.10, unless the client gives informed consent under the conditions stated in Rule 1.7.

[8] Government agencies are not included in the definition of “firm.” See Rule 1.0(c) and Comment [4A]. Nonetheless, the ethical reasons for restrictions in serving as an advocate and a witness apply with equal force to lawyers in government offices and lawyers in private practice. Division (c) reflects the difference between relationships among salaried lawyers working in government agencies and relationships between law firm lawyers where financial ties among the partners and associates in the firm are intertwined. Division (c) permits a lawyer to testify, or offer the testimony of a lawyer in the same government agency as the lawyers participating in the case, where permitted by division (a) or by common law.

Comparison to former Ohio Code of Professional Responsibility

Rule 3.7 replaces DR 5-101(B) and 5-102 and changes the rule governing the ability of other lawyers who are associated in a firm with a testifying lawyer to continue the representation of a client.

Comparison to ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct

Rule 3.7 is identical to ABA Model Rule 3.7 with the exception of the addition of division (c) and Comment [8].

Rule 3.7(c) and Comment [8] are added to recognize the difference between relationships among salaried lawyers in government agencies and relationships between law firm lawyers, where “financial ties among the partners and associates of the firm are intertwined.” See In re Disqualification of Carr, 105 Ohio St. 3d 1233, 1235-36, 2004-Ohio-7357, ¶13-16. The testimony of a prosecutor, who is effectively screened from any participation in the case, may be permitted in extraordinary circumstances. State v. Coleman (1989), 45 Ohio St. 3d 298 was a death penalty case. In allowing such testimony, the Court said: “We recognize that a prosecuting attorney should avoid being a witness in a criminal prosecution, where it is a complex proceeding where substitution of counsel is impractical, and where the attorney so testifying is not engaged in the active trial of the cause and it is the only testimony available, such testimony is admissible and not a violation of DR 5-102.” Id. at 302.