Clients frequently disclose unfavorable or potentially damaging information to their lawyers. Most often, these disclosures are made with the assumption that anything revealed to an attorney must remain privileged, and that it is the lawyer’s job to manipulate or conceal certain information in order to achieve a positive result for the client. This is extremely common in the matrimonial context where clients often seek to hide information from their spouses or from the court, such as unreported income, hidden assets, or even an affair. Unlike the client, attorneys are held to a higher standard and are bound by strict ethical rules designed to prevent this kind of gamesmanship. Notwithstanding an attorney’s duty to advocate for his or her client, and the existence of the attorney-client privilege, practitioners must remember not to compromise their own integrity by pushing the bounds of the Rules of Professional Conduct for a client.

From the moment a potential client walks in the door, an attorney’s ethical obligations are triggered. Therefore, it is important to use caution in communicating with clients and to lay ground rules as soon as possible in order to avoid any potentially tricky issues stemming from an inadvertent disclosure. For example, at the initial client meeting, the attorney may want to limit the questions he or she asks or the information he or she requests to avoid creating an ethical minefield from the outset. Attorneys should also immediately advise their clients about their own ethical duties and important restrictions on the practice of law.