State of Rhode Island
June 22, 1994
The inquiring attorney states that the law firm at which he/she is employed has obtained a line of credit from a bank. The bank has requested that the law firm grant a security interest in the firm’s accounts receivable and that the firm provide the bank with a list of the accounts receivable including the names of clients, addresses and amounts owed by them. The attorney seeks Panel advice under these circumstances in light of Rule 1.6 “confidentiality of information.”
Rule 1.6 states that: A lawyer shall not reveal information relating to representation of a client unless the client consents after consultation, except for disclosures that are impliedly authorized in order to carry out the representation, and except as stated in paragraph (b).
A lawyer may, but is not obligated to reveal such information to the extent the lawyer reasonably believes necessary: to prevent the client from committing a criminal act that the lawyer believes is likely to result in imminent death or substantial bodily harm; or to establish a claim or defense on behalf of the lawyer in a controversy between the lawyer and the client, to establish a defense to a criminal charge or civil claim against the lawyer based upon conduct in which the client was involved, or to respond to allegations in any proceeding concerning the lawyer’s representation of the client.
Rule 1.6 forbids disclosure of “information relating to representation of a client unless the client consents.” It does not distinguish between information which would be considered a confidence or a secret. The name, address, and fee amount owed by a client to the inquiring attorney’s law firm relates to the representation and is therefore confidential information. The Panel believes that the law firm cannot provide the requested list to the bank consistent with 1.6.
Rhode Island Supreme Court Ethics Advisory Panel
Opinion No. 2007-05 Request No. 931
Issued March 8, 2007
The inquiring attorney hired a medical expert to review a client’s medical records. The expert’s fee had to be paid before the expert provided a report. The inquiring attorney paid the fee on behalf of the client and billed the client. The client has not paid the expert’s fee. The inquiring attorney wants to charge interest on the amount due. A written fee agreement between the client and the inquiring attorney states that the client is responsible for payment of all costs associated with advancing the case and that payments of those costs that are advanced by the inquiring attorney are due from the client upon payment by the attorney. The fee agreement also provides that the inquiring attorney may charge interest on overdue amounts.
The inquiring attorney asks whether it is proper to charge interest to the client on the unpaid expert’s fee.
The Rules of Professional Conduct do not prohibit the inquiring attorney from charging the client interest on the unpaid expert’s fee provided the inquiring attorney complies with laws governing the charging of interest.
The fee agreement provides that the client is responsible for costs, and that costs that are advanced by the inquiring attorney are due upon payment by the inquiring attorney. The fee agreement also provides for interest on unpaid amounts. The Rules of Professional Conduct do not prohibit the inquiring attorney from charging the client interest on the unpaid bills for the medical expert’s services, provided that the inquiring attorney complies with laws governing the charging of interest. Such charges are the reasonable consequences of nonpayment. See R.I. Sup. Ct. Ethics Advisory Panel Op. 98-06 (1998) (charging interest on unpaid legal bills is proper if lawyer complies with laws governing the charging of interest and if, in the absence of a prior written agreement, clients receive advance notice and a reasonable opportunity to pay without interest.
Link to ethics opinion not available online