Notices, 0616 GABARJ, GSB Vol. 21, No. 7, Pg. 72


Vol. 21 No. 7 Pg. 72

Georgia Bar Journal

June, 2016

Notice of Filing Formal Advisory Opinion in Supreme Court

Second Publication of Proposed Redrafted Formal Advisory Opinion No. 03-2 Hereinafter known as “Formal Advisory Opinion No. 16-1”

(Note: This opinion, which was published in the April 2016 issue of the Georgia Bar Journal, is being published again for 2nd publication to correct a typographical error. Proposed Redrafted Formal Advisory Opinion No. 03-2 will hereinafter be known as Formal Advisory Opinion No. 16-1.)

Members of the State Bar of Georgia are hereby NOTIFIED that the Formal Advisory Opinion Board has issued the following Formal Advisory Opinion, pursuant to the provisions of Rule 4-403(d) of Chapter 4 of the Rules and Regulations of the State Bar of Georgia approved by order of the Supreme Court of Georgia on May 1, 2002. This opinion will be filed with the Supreme Court of Georgia on or after June 30, 2016.

Rule 4-403(d) states that within 20 days of the filing of the Formal Advisory Opinion or the date the publication is mailed to the members of the Bar, whichever is later, only the State Bar of Georgia or the person who requested the opinion may file a petition for discretionary review thereof with the Supreme Court of Georgia. The petition shall designate the Formal Advisory Opinion sought to be reviewed and shall concisely state the manner in which the petitioner is aggrieved. If the Supreme Court grants the petition for discretionary review or decides to review the opinion on its own motion, the record shall consist of the comments received by the Formal Advisory Opinion Board from members of the Bar. The State Bar of Georgia and the person requesting the opinion shall follow the briefing schedule set forth in Supreme Court Rule 10, counting from the date of the order granting review. A copy of the petition filed with the Supreme Court of Georgia pursuant to Rule 4-403(d) must be simultaneously served upon the Board through the Office of the General Counsel of the State Bar or Georgia. The final determination may be either by written opinion or by order of the Supreme Court and shall state whether the Formal Advisory Opinion is approved, modified, or disapproved, or shall provide for such other final disposition as is appropriate.

In accordance with Rule 4-223(a) of the Rules and Regulations of the State Bar of Georgia, any Formal Advisory Opinion issued pursuant to Rule 4-403 which is not thereafter disapproved by the Supreme Court of Georgia shall be binding on the State Bar of Georgia, the State Disciplinary Board, and the person who requested the opinion, in any subsequent disciplinary proceeding involving that person.

Pursuant to Rule 4-403(e) of Chapter 4 of the Rules and Regulations of the State Bar of Georgia, if the Supreme Court of Georgia declines to review the Formal Advisory Opinion, it shall be binding only on the State Bar of Georgia and the person who requested the opinion, and not on the Supreme Court, which shall treat the opinion as persuasive authority only. If the Supreme Court grants review and disapproves the opinion, it shall have absolutely no effect and shall not constitute either persuasive or binding authority. If the Supreme Court approves or modifies the opinion, it shall be binding on all members of the State Bar and shall be published in the official Georgia Court and Bar Rules manual. The Supreme Court shall accord such approved or modified opinion the same precedential authority given to the regularly published judicial opinions of the Court.

Second Publication of Formal Advisory Opinion No. 16-1


PURSUANT TO RULE 4-403 ON JANUARY 26, 2016 FORMAL ADVISORY OPINION NO. 16-1 (Redrafted Version of FAO No. 03-2)

Question Presented:

Does the obligation of confidentiality described in Rule 1.6, Confidentiality of Information, apply as between two jointly represented clients?

Summary Answer:

The obligation of confidentiality described in Rule 1.6, Confidentiality of Information, applies as between two jointly represented clients. An attorney must honor one client’s request that information be kept confidential from the other jointly represented client. Honoring the client’s request will, in almost all circumstances, require the attorney to withdraw from the joint representation.


Unlike the attorney-client privilege, jointly represented clients do not lose the protection of confidentiality described in Rule 1.6, Confidentiality of Information, as to each other by entering into the joint representation. See, e.g., D.C. Bar Legal Ethics Committee, Opinion No. 296 (2000) and Committee on Professional Ethics, New York State Bar Association, Opinion No. 555 (1984). Nor do jointly represented clients impliedly consent to a sharing of confidences with each other.

When one client in a joint representation requests that some information relevant to the representation be kept confidential from the other client, the attorney must honor the request and then determine if continuing with the representation while honoring the request will: a) be inconsistent with the lawyer’s obligations to keep the other client informed under Rule 1.4, Communication; b) materially and adversely affect the representation of the other client under Rule 1.7, Conflict of Interest: General Rule; or c) both.

The lawyer has discretion to continue with the joint representation while not revealing the confidential information to the other client only to the extent that he or she can do so consistent with these rules. If maintaining the confidence will constitute a violation of Rule 1.4 or Rule 1.7, as it almost certainly will, the lawyer should maintain the confidence and discontinue the joint representation.[1]

Consent to conflicting representations, of course, is permitted under Rule 1.7. Consent to continued joint representation in these circumstances, however, ordinarily would not be available either because it would be impossible to obtain the required informed consent without disclosing the confidential information in question[2] or because consent is not permitted under Rule 1.7 in that the continued joint representation would “involve circumstances rendering it reasonably unlikely that the lawyer will be able to provide adequate representation to one or more of the affected clients.” Rule 1.7(c) (3).

The potential problems that confidentiality can create between jointly represented clients make it especially important that clients understand the requirements of a joint representation prior to entering into one. When an attorney is considering a joint representation, informed consent of the clients, confirmed in writing, is required prior to the representation “if there is a significant risk that the lawyer’s . . . duties to [either of the jointly represented clients] . . . will materially and adversely affect the representation of [the other] client.” Rule 1.7. Whether or not informed consent is required, however, a prudent attorney will always discuss with clients wishing to be jointly represented the need for sharing confidences between them, obtain their consent to such sharing, and inform them of the consequences of either client’s nevertheless insisting on confidentiality as to the other client and, in effect, revoking the consent.[3] If it appears to the attorney that either client is uncomfortable with the required sharing of confidential information that joint representation requires, the attorney should reconsider whether joint representation is appropriate in the circumstances. If a putative jointly represented client indicates a need for confidentiality from another putative jointly represented client, then it is very likely that joint representation is inappropriate and the putative clients need individual representation by separate attorneys.

The above guidelines, derived from the requirements of the Georgia Rules of Professional Conduct and consistent with the primary advisory opinions from other jurisdictions, are general in nature. There is no doubt that their application in some specific contexts will create additional specific concerns seemingly un-addressed in the general ethical requirements. We are, however, without authority to depart from the Rules of Professional Conduct that are intended to be generally applicable to the profession. For example, there is no doubt that the application of these requirements to the joint representation of spouses in estate planning will sometimes place attorneys in the awkward position of having to withdraw from a joint representation of spouses because of a request by one spouse to keep relevant information confidential from the other and, by withdrawing, not only ending trusted lawyer-client relationships but also essentially notifying the other client that an issue of confidentiality has arisen. See, e.g., Florida State Bar Opinion 95-4 (1997) (“The attorney may not reveal confidential information to the wife when the husband tells the attorney that he wishes to provide for a beneficiary that is unknown to the wife. The attorney must withdraw from the representation of both husband and wife because of the conflict presented when the attorney must maintain the husband’s separate confidences regarding the joint representation.”) A large number of highly varied recommendations have been made about how to deal with these specific concerns in this specific practice setting. See, e.g., Pearce, Family Values and Legal Ethics: Competing Approaches to Conflicts in Representing Spouses, 62 Fordham L. Rev. 1253 (1994); and, Collett, And The Two Shall Become As One . . . Until The Lawyers Are Done, 7 Notre Dame J. L. Ethics & Public Policy 101 (1993) for discussion of these recommendations. Which recommendations are followed, we believe, is best left to the practical wisdom of the good lawyers practicing in this...

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