ABA Issues New Guidance on Conflicts Related to Personal Relationships

By 
Scott Stewart
The Daily Record

Lawyers navigating potential conflicts arising from client representation and relationships with opposing lawyers can look to new guidance from the American Bar Association Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility.

Formal Opinion 494 deals with acquaintances, friendships and close personal relationships in relation to ABA Model Rule of Professional Conduct 1.7(a)(2). It draws heavily from an opinion in September 2019 addressing judges’ personal relationships with lawyers or parties requiring disqualification or disclosure.

The new opinion says intimate relationships “must be disclosed,” according to an ABA news release, and says that “lawyers ordinarily may not represent clients in the matter, unless each client gives informed consent confirmed in writing.”

“Because friendships exist in a wide variety of contexts, friendships need to be examined closely,” the opinion continued.

Close friendships with opposing counsel should be disclosed to clients, but some friendships and most acquaintanceships need not be disclosed, nor do they require informed consent, the standing committee concluded. Disclosure “may be advisable to maintain good client relations,” though.

The opinion was developed this summer by the standing committee, which periodically issues ethics opinions to guide in interpreting and applying ABA model ethics rules to specific issues of legal practice, client-lawyer relationships and judicial behavior.

Recent ABA ethics opinions are available online at americanbar.org/groups/professional_responsibility.

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