Ethics Committee Advisory Opinion #2009-10/01
By the NHBA Ethics Committee
A lawyer must be careful when exposed to confidential information from a prospective client. If a lawyer is exposed to such confidential information, it may disqualify the lawyer from later representing an opposing party. This opinion outlines certain steps to avoid disqualifying the entire law firm from representing others with materially adverse interests in the matter.
New Hampshire’s Rules of Professional Conduct generally prohibit an attorney from using or revealing confidential information received from a prospective client, even if the lawyer declines to represent the party who contacted him. If a lawyer reviews information relayed in an electronic message that could be significantly harmful to its sender, he or she may be disqualified from later representing an opposing party. Further, unless the steps described in this article are followed, the entire law firm could be disqualified from representing others with materially adverse interests in the matter.
The internet has changed the practice of law in many ways, including the way people find lawyers to represent them. Law firms have employed different means to leverage these changes into more business, but the Ethics Committee advises lawyers and law firms in the State to consider carefully the implications of using their websites to invite members of the public to email the firms’ attorneys.