Joint Clients Need Warning Even if Interests Align

In a recent ethics opinion, the New York City Bar Association Committee on Professional Ethics advised attorneys asked to simultaneously represent multiple clients to communicate the potential dangers of joint representation, even in situations where the clients’ interests appear to be aligned.

Under Rule 1.7, when representing multiple clients with differing interests, a lawyer must obtain informed consent to the representation. However, according to the opinion, even if clients’ interests align, such that informed consent is not required under Rule 1.7, Rule 1.4 imposes a duty of communication, which “require[s] the lawyer to make disclosures to clients concerning the aspects of the joint representation.” The opinion stresses the importance of explaining the potential implications of the representation to “the extent reasonably necessary to permit each client to make informed decisions about the representation.”

The opinion specifically highlights the potential issues surrounding the attorney-client privilege. Because information material to the representation disclosed by one client cannot be withheld from the other joint client, information that would otherwise be protected by the privilege will not be protected between joint clients in the event of a dispute.

The committee concluded by advising, “while Rule 1.4 does not require a lawyer to make disclosures about the implications of joint representation in writing, it will often be sound practice for the lawyer to so.”

Read the full opinion here.


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