Legal Ethics – Confidentiality

In California, attorney ethics are governed by the California Rules of Professional Conduct. Specifically, California Rule of Professional Conduct (CRPC) 3-100 provides in relevant part: (A) A member shall not reveal information protected from disclosure by Business and Professions Code section 6068, subdivision (e)(1) without the informed consent of the client, or as provided in paragraph (B) of this rule.

California Business and Professions Code section 6068(e)(1) states it is the duty of an attorney “to maintain inviolate the confidence, and at every peril to himself or herself to preserve the secrets, of his or her client.”

These two sections read in concert outline the duties of an attorney with regard to confidentiality.

An exception to keeping client confidences is carved out for clients who engage in criminal conduct, but most situations will be governed by the general rule that an attorney (and all those working for the attorney) are required to keep all client information confidential. One of the underlying purposes for client confidentiality is to allow clients to feel they can safely tell the details of their situation to the attorney which, in turn, allows the attorney to better represent the client.

A related issue is the issue of the attorney-client privilege, which is actually an evidentiary issue rather than an ethical issue.

For Paralegals in California, the ethical rules that govern paralegal conduct are the same as those which govern attorney conduct in the state. Therefore, Paralegals must keep all client information confidential. This can sometimes be challenging when a good client story comes along, but consider that you could be the client of an attorney one day, and you would certainly not want your “story” being repeated to friends and relatives of the office staff. Keep quiet!

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