TOPIC: The "no-contact rule" and advising a client in connection with communications conceived or initiated by the client with a represented party.
DIGEST: This Committee concludes that where the client conceives the idea to communicate with a represented party, DR 7-104 does not preclude the lawyer from advising the client concerning the substance of the communication. The lawyer may freely advise the client so long as the lawyer does not assist the client inappropriately to seek confidential information or invite the nonclient to take action without the advice of counsel or otherwise to overreach the nonclient. N.Y. City 1991-2 is withdrawn.
CODE PROVISIONS: DR 7-104 [22 NYCRR § 1200.35], EC 7-18
QUESTION: Where a client conceives the idea of communicating directly with an adverse party who is known to be represented by counsel, may the attorney advise the client about the substance of the communication?
Circumstances abound in both litigation and transactional contexts in
which it is advisable -- and even crucial -- for a client to communicate
directly with her counterpart. The need for such direct contact often
arises to cement a settlement or break a negotiating logjam, to name just
two common situations. To that end, the client might well expect to rely
especially heavily on her lawyer's advice as she contemplates entering
the fray personally. But in N.Y. City 1991-2, this Committee interpreted
DR 7-104 in a manner that deprives the client of her lawyer's advice when
the client may require that assistance most urgently.
Specifically, this Committee opined in N.Y. City 1991-2 that: (1) a lawyer may not encourage or "cause" a client to communicate with a represented party, without the consent of opposing counsel or legal authorization; and (2) even in situations when the client independently decides to contact a represented party, the lawyer should advise the client that, without opposing counsel's consent, the lawyer cannot assist or advise the client in these communications.
In July 1999, DR 7-104 was amended to provide a safe harbor for a lawyer who suggests that a client communicate with a represented party:
Notwithstanding the prohibitions of DR7-104[1200.35](A), and unless prohibited by law, a lawyer may cause a client to communicate with a represented party, if that party is legally competent, and counsel the client with respect to those communications, provided the lawyer gives reasonable advance notice to the represented party's counsel that such communications will be taking place.
DR 7-104(B). EC 7-18 further provides that a lawyer may advise his or
her client to communicate directly with a represented person, "including
by drafting papers for the client to present to the represented person,"
so long as the attorney gives "reasonable advance notice" that
such communications will be taking place. EC 7-18 defines "reasonable
advance notice" as "notice provided sufficiently in advance
of the direct client-to-client communications, and of sufficient content,
so that the represented person's lawyer has an opportunity to advise his
or her own client with respect to the client-to-client communications
before they take place." See Roy Simon, The 1999 Amendments
to the Ethical Considerations in New York's Code of Professional Responsibility,
29 Hofstra L. Rev. 265, 274 (Fall 2000) (describing "reasonable advance
notice" as a "flexible concept" that requires at least
ample time for the "opposing lawyer to get in touch with her client").
In light of these recent amendments to DR 7-104(b) and EC 7-18, we now revisit the remainder of N.Y. City 1991-2
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During the course of the representation of a client a lawyer shall not:
DR 7-104(A)(1) of the Code establishes a "no-contact" rule for counsel:
The "no-contact" rule is traceable to an 1836 legal treatise that instructs: "I will never enter into any conversation with my opponent's client, relative to his claim or defense, except with the consent, and in the presence of his counsel." John Leubsdorf, Communicating with Another Lawyer's Client: The Lawyer's Veto and the Client's Interests, 127 U. Pa. L. Rev. 683, 710 n. 6 (Jan. 1979) (quoting 2 D. Hoffman, A Course of Legal Study Addressed to Students and the Profession Generally 771 (2d ed. Baltimore 1836) (1st ed. Baltimore 1817)).
Communicate or cause another to communicate on the subject of the representation with a party the lawyer knows to be represented by a lawyer in that matter unless the lawyer has the prior consent of the lawyer representing such other party or is authorized by law to do so.
(quoted in ABA Formal Opinion 95-396, Communications with Represented Persons (July 28, 1995)). The no-contact rule was carried forward into the 1970 Code of Professional Responsibility.
A lawyer should not in any way communicate upon the subject of controversy with a party represented by counsel; much less should he undertake to negotiate or compromise the matter with him, but should deal only with his counsel.
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Lawyers May Advise Clients Concerning the Substance of Communications Conceived or Initiated by Clients with Represented Parties _____________
Not surprisingly, N.Y. City 1991-2 provoked a flood of scholarly criticism.
"[This] interpretation [of DR 7-104(A)(1)] stands the no-contact
rule on its head. The purpose of the rule is to protect lawyers' agency
relationships with their respective clients, and to prevent clients from
being overreached by opposing lawyers." 2 Geoffrey C. Hazard, Jr.
& W. William Hodes, The Law of Lawyering, § 38.2 (2002); Restatement
(Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers § 99C, comment (k) (2000)
the anti-contact rule does not prohibit a lawyer from advising
the lawyer's own client concerning the client's communication with a represented
nonclient . . . Prohibiting such advice would unduly restrict the client's
autonomy, the client's interest in obtaining important legal advice, and
the client's ability to communicate fully with the lawyer."); James
G. Sweeney, Attorneys' Arrogance: Warning Unheeded, N.Y.L.J., June
17, 1991, p.2, col. 3 ("To deny or deter the client from the opportunity
of entering into the gauging process of what value is to him in a particular
dispute by denying him an opportunity to sit at the bargaining table with
his adversary works against the very fundamental idea of the self and
of human autonomy.") See also John Leubsdorf, Communicating
With Another Lawyer's Client: The Lawyer's Veto and the Client's Interests,
127 U. Pa. L. Rev. 683, 697 (Jan. 1979) ("An extension of the [no-contact]
rule to communications between clients is hard to reconcile with its ostensible
purposes. Whatever dangers flow from the confrontation of professional
guile with lay innocence are absent when two nonlawyers communicate .
. . Perhaps we have again come across the desire to keep disputes safely
in the control of lawyers.")
We believe that the overly broad construction of DR 7-104 in N.Y. City 1991-2 is at odds with modern authority. Under the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which replaced the Model Code in the majority of states, a lawyer is permitted to advise a client to speak directly to a represented party. See Model Rule 4.2. Indeed, in 1983 the ABA House of Delegates considered and rejected a proposed amendment by the New York State Bar Association that would have restored the language "or cause another to communicate" to Model Rule 4.2. Opponents of the amendment successfully "objected to a possible interpretation of the amendment that would prevent lawyers from advising principals to speak directly with their counterparts. The Rule was not intended to prohibit such advice." Legislative History of the Model Rules of Professional Conduct: Their Development in the ABA House of Delegates 148-49 (1987); accord ABA Formal Opinion 362 (1992).
The thrust of N.Y. City 1991-2 also is directly contrary to the Ethics 2000 Commission's Commentary to Model Rule 4.2 that states: "Parties to a matter may communicate directly with each other, and a lawyer is not prohibited from advising a client concerning a communication that the client is legally entitled to make." Ethics 2000 - February 2002 Report, Rule 4.2, Comment 2, available at www.abanet.org/cpr/e2k-202_111_85.doc.
In this same vein, Section 99 of the Restatement of the Law Governing Lawyers explicitly permits a lawyer to assist or advise a client concerning communications with a represented party. See Restatement (Third) of the Law Governing Lawyers § 99(2) (2000) ("[the no-contact rule] does not prohibit the lawyer from assisting the client in otherwise proper communication by the lawyer's client with a represented nonclient.").
On its face, we find nothing in DR 7-104(a) that would permit, much less compel, a severe limitation on a client's right to obtain legal advice to assist the client in communicating with her counterpart to achieve a lawful objective. On the contrary, there is a strong public policy in favor of resolving disputes that is undermined by an overly expansive interpretation of DR 7-104(a).
In reaching the conclusion that a lawyer was ethically prohibited under DR 7-104 from "endorsing or encouraging" direct client-to-client communications or advising a client about the substance of communications with a represented party even where the client, not the lawyer, first raised or proposed the contact, New York City 1991-2 adopted an overly broad definition of the term "cause":
We conclude that "caus[ing] another to communicate with a party" in this context includes not just using the client as an agent for or in place of the lawyer for making the communication (i.e., where the lawyer directs, supervises or plans the substance of the communication), but also the act of suggesting or recommending to the client that he or she engage in such communication, even though the lawyer has no further involvement in or knowledge of the substance of the communication that subsequently takes place, or the endorsement or encouragement of such a course of action, even when it is first raised or proposed by the client.
From this broad definition, the Committee concluded "[a] lawyer
who learns that a client has initiated settlement negotiations with the
adverse party may not, thereafter, advise the client as to how to proceed
with those negotiations. . . "
Given the modern authority referred to above, we conclude that a narrower definition of the term "cause" contained in DR7-104 is more appropriate, one akin to the definition found in the dictionary, which would apply where the lawyer prompts or initiates a client's direct contact with an adversary. It does not extend to the endorsement or encouragement of a communication "first raised by a client" and does not preclude the lawyer from advising the client on the content of communications conceived of or initiated by the client.
In light of the foregoing, we are constrained to withdraw N.Y. City 1991-2. In doing so, the Committee is mindful of the possibility that some lawyers may seek to overreach, even when the client conceives the idea to contact a represented party. Accordingly, the Committee adopts the Restatement's salutary view that in advising a client in connection with such communications, the lawyer may not "assist the client inappropriately to seek confidential information, to invite the nonclient to take action without the advice of counsel, or otherwise to overreach the nonclient." Restatement § 99 Comment (k). In this connection, we interpret "overreach[ing] the nonclient" to prohibit the lawyer from converting a communication initiated or conceived by the client into a vehicle for the lawyer to communicate directly with the nonclient, an aspect of N.Y.C. 1991-2 with which we agree (prohibiting a lawyer who learns that a client has initiated settlement discussions with adverse party from assisting the client in "in any other manner that would constitute using the client as a vehicle for communicating with the represented party, absent notice to and consent from opposing counsel").
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ConclusionN.Y. City 1991-2 is withdrawn. This Committee concludes that where the client conceives the idea to communicate with a represented party, DR 7-104 does not preclude the lawyer from advising the client concerning the substance of the communication. The lawyer may freely advise the client so long as the lawyer does not assist the client inappropriately to seek confidential information or invite the nonclient to take action without the advice of counsel or otherwise to overreach the nonclient.
Issued: May, 2002
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