Ethics Corner Article

Dear Ethics Committee:

I am a rural practitioner with two partners. I handle mostly estate planning matters; one of my partners focuses on civil litigation, and the other on marital and bankruptcy work.

A few months ago, I received a phone call from a prospective client asking for help with administration of an estate. We spoke by phone for about 15 minutes, and I obtained the names and other relevant information about the interested parties to check for conflicts. Also, due to recent health issues, I was trying to take only cases that appear unlikely to have contentious and lengthy litigation.

In order to make this determination, I asked a few targeted questions about the family dynamics.  The caller described a very dysfunctional family and suggested one of her brothers might very well contest the will. She then quickly and without any questioning from me added that she would actually be happy if she received only the small lakefront property, which is much less valuable than that to which she would be entitled under the will. I decided that this was not a case I should take at this time and politely declined.

Last week, after recovering significantly from my illness, another of the caller’s family sought to retain me in the same estate dispute. This person owns a large company in our area and suggested that if we took the case, she would bring her other business to us. I would like to accept the case. I have reviewed your prior opinion on prospective clients (EC #2019-20/02, June 23, 2020) and still am not sure if I can accept the case. Despite the potential for further client work, neither of my partners feels able to accept the matter, even if I am screened, as is suggested in your opinion.

Thanks for any help on this.

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This Ethics Corner Article was submitted for publication to the NHBA Board of Governors at its January 21, 2021 Meeting. The Ethics Committee provides general guidance on the New Hampshire Rules of Professional Conduct and publishes brief commentaries in the Bar News and other NHBA media outlets. New Hampshire lawyers may contact the Committee for confidential and informal guidance on their own prospective conduct or to suggest topics for Ethics Corner commentaries by emailing the Ethics Committee Staff Liaison.