Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 04-04

Utah State Bar Ethics Advisory Opinions
Opinion No. 04-04
Issued August 25, 2004
Issue: In litigation to enforce an oral contract allegedly made by a corporate defendant’s former employee on behalf of the corporation, where the former employee was not a member of the control group, may the plaintiff’s attorney contact the ex-employee without the consent of the corporate defendant’s attorney?

Answer: The contact with the former employee is not unethical. Utah Rules of Professional Conduct 4.2 (2004) does not bar a lawyer’s unauthorized contact with former employees of a represented corporate defendant except in very limited circumstances not applicable to this opinion.
Facts: A corporate defendant is represented by a lawyer in the defense of a claim based on an oral agreement allegedly made by a former employee of the corporate defendant while employed by the corporate defendant. The former employee was not a member of the “control group” as this term is defined in Utah Rules of Professional Conduct 4.2(c) (2) (2004), but the former employee did have authority to enter into contracts. The former employee is not separately represented by legal counsel with respect to the matter. We are asked whether the lawyer representing the corporate defendant represents the former employee with respect to the matter under Rule 4.2(c)(1)(B)(iii), thereby precluding plaintiff’s counsel from communicating with the former employee with respect to the matter without complying with Rule 4.2(a).
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Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 04-01

March 29, 2004
¶1 Issue:
What action, if any, may a lawyer for an employer ethically undertake on behalf of a vanished former employee who, along with the employer, has been named as a defendant in an action arising when the person was an employee?

¶2 Answer: Under certain narrowly prescribed conditions, an employer’s lawyer may ethically take limited action to protect the interests of the vanished former employee, provided the lack of direct contact with that defendant is brought to the attention of the relevant tribunal.
¶3 Facts: Plaintiff filed suit naming a company and its former employee as defendants. The employer concedes that the former employee was acting in the course and scope of his employment and has asked the company’s lawyers to represent the missing defendant. Absence of a formal answer to the complaint may result in a default judgment being entered against the absent former employee. We have no information about the reasons for the employee’s absence, but we assume that a reasonable effort has been made to locate the person and determine the reason for the absence. We also assume that, at this early stage of the proceeding, the interests of the employer and former employee are not in conflict.1The lawyer requesting this opinion also indicated that the employer has liability insurance that covers the incident giving rise to the lawsuit.2The company has requested that the lawyer represent the missing ex-employee. (more…)

04-02 – May a plaintiff’s lawyer continue to represent the plaintiff in a legal malpractice action when opposing counsel has announced an intention to call plaintiff’s lawyer as a witness?

April 19, 2004
¶1 ISSUE:
May a plaintiff’s lawyer continue to represent the plaintiff in a legal malpractice action when opposing counsel has announced an intention to call plaintiff’s lawyer as a witness?

¶2 OPINION: There is no per se disqualification of a lawyer in a case where she may be called as a witness. The lawyer must determine whether, under the facts of the case, she is a “necessary witness” in the litigation under Rule 3.7. If she is, and if disqualification of the lawyer would not work a substantial hardship on the client, she must withdraw prior to trial. If the lawyer does not withdraw, the lawyer must insure that the client’s interests are and can be protected in a timely manner. This could include the filing of a motion in limine or other pleading to resolve the issue prior to trial. Concurrently, the lawyer must determine if there is a conflict of interest under Rule 1.7. (more…)

04-04 – In litigation to enforce an oral contract allegedly made by a corporate defendant’s former employee

August 25, 2004

1 Issue: In litigation to enforce an oral contract allegedly made by a corporate defendant’s former employee on behalf of the corporation, where the former employee was not a member of the control group, may the plaintiff’s attorney contact the ex-employee without the consent of the corporate defendant’s attorney?

2 Answer: The contact with the former employee is not unethical. Utah Rules of Professional Conduct 4.2 (2004) does not bar a lawyer’s unauthorized contact with former employees of a represented corporate defendant except in very limited circumstances not applicable to this opinion.
3 Facts: A corporate defendant is represented by a lawyer in the defense of a claim based on an oral agreement allegedly made by a former employee of the corporate defendant while employed by the corporate defendant. The former employee was not a member of the “control group” as this term is defined in Utah Rules of Professional Conduct 4.2(c) (2) (2004), but the former employee did have authority to enter into contracts. The former employee is not separately represented by legal counsel with respect to the matter. We are asked whether the lawyer representing the corporate defendant represents the former employee with respect to the matter under Rule 4.2(c)(1)(B)(iii), thereby precluding plaintiff’s counsel from communicating with the former employee with respect to the matter without complying with Rule 4.2(a).
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Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 04-01a

December 2, 2004
Amendment of Opinion No. 04-01: On March 29, 2004, the Utah Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee issued Utah Ethics Advisory Op. No. 04-01, 2004 WL 870583 (Utah St. Bar).1 The Office of Professional Conduct of the Utah State Bar filed a petition for review with the Board of Bar Commissioners pursuant to § III(e)(1) of the Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee Rules of Procedure and § VI(a)(1) of the Utah State Bar Rules Governing the Ethics Advisory Opinion Committee. The Commission asked the Committee to reconsider Opinion No. 04-01. Having reviewed the issues raised by the Office of Professional Conduct, we issue this amended opinion, which revises the conclusion and analysis of Opinion No. 04-01. Accordingly, this amended opinion replaces and supersedes Opinion No. 04-01. (more…)

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 04-05

December 2, 2004
Issue:
Do the Utah Rules of Professional Conduct preclude a lawyer from forming a cooperative organization that offers certain non-legal, but law-related, services such as trust administration and investment management; referring clients to that organization; and participating in the organization’s profit sharing?

Opinion: It is not per se unethical for a lawyer to refer a client to a cooperative organization created by the lawyer to provide non-legal services and for the lawyer to participate in the organization’s profit sharing. If the lawyer complies with the following, then the arrangement is permissible: (1) objectively concludes that any identifiable conflicts between the lawyer and the cooperative organization would not materially affect the representation of that client; (2) affirms in writing to the client that the referral will not compromise the client’s interests in any way; (3) fairly concludes that the services provided by the cooperative organization are being provided at fair and reasonable fees; (4) discloses that the lawyer will receive a share of profits from the cooperative organization; (5) advises the client to seek independent counsel as to the referral; and (6) secures the client’s consent. (more…)

Ethics Advisory Opinion No. 04-06

December 2, 2004
Issue:
Under what circumstances is it permissible for corporate counsel to assert that counsel concurrently represents present and former corporate employees whose testimony is relevant to a claim and ethically preclude opposing counsel’s access to those corporate employee witnesses?

Opinion: If corporate counsel has actually formed an attorney-client relationship with these employee-witnesses, and has fully complied with Utah Rules of Professional Conduct 1.7 (including obtaining informed consent from all multiple clients to joint representation and informing them of the possible need for withdrawal from representing any of them should an actual conflict arise), this is permissible and opposing counsel may not interview them. However, in the absence of such a fully formed and proper attorney-client relationship, it is improper for corporate counsel to block opposing counsel’s access to other current corporate constituents, by asserting an attorney-client relationship unless these individuals were control group members, their acts could be imputed to the organization or their statement would bind the corporation with respect to the matter under Utah Rules of Professional Conduct 4.2. Similarly, it is improper to block opposing counsel’s access to any former employee in the absence of a current fully formed and proper attorney-client relationship. (more…)