Rule 1.18. Duties to Prospective Clients.
(a) A person who consults with a lawyer about the possibility of forming a client-lawyer relationship with respect to a matter is a prospective client.
(b) Even when no client-lawyer relationship ensues, a lawyer who has learned information from a prospective client shall not use or reveal information which may be significantly harmful to that person, except as Rule 1.9 would permit with respect to information of a former client.
(c) A lawyer subject to paragraph (b) shall not represent a client with interests materially adverse to those of a prospective client in the same or a substantially related matter if the lawyer learned information from the prospective client that could be significantly harmful to that person in the matter, except as provided in paragraph (d). If a lawyer is disqualified from representation under this paragraph, no lawyer in a firm with which that lawyer is associated may knowingly undertake or continue representation in such a matter, except as provided in paragraph (d).
(d) When a lawyer has learned information as defined in paragraph (c), representation is permissible if:
(1) both the affected client and the prospective client have given informed consent, or;
(2) all of the following apply:
(i) the disqualified lawyer took reasonable measures to avoid exposure to more disqualifying information than was reasonably necessary to determine whether to represent the prospective client;
(ii) the disqualified lawyer is screened from any participation in the matter and is apportioned no part of the fee therefrom; and
(iii) written notice is promptly given to the prospective client.
(1) Prospective clients, like clients, may disclose information to a lawyer, place documents or other property in the lawyers custody, or rely on the lawyers advice. A lawyers consultations with a prospective client usually are limited in time and depth and leave both the prospective client and the lawyer free (and sometimes required) to proceed no further. Hence, prospective clients should receive some but not all of the protection afforded clients.
(2) A person becomes a prospective client by consulting with a lawyer about the possibility of forming a client-lawyer relationship with respect to a matter. Whether communications, including written, oral, or electronic communications, constitute a consultation depends on the circumstances. For example, a consultation is likely to have occurred if a lawyer, either in person or through the lawyers advertising in any medium, specifically requests or invites the submission of information about a potential representation without clear and reasonably understandable warnings and cautionary statements that limit the lawyers obligations, and a person provides information in response. See also Comment (4). In contrast, a consultation does not occur if a person provides information to a lawyer, such as in an unsolicited e-mail or other communication, in response to advertising that merely describes the lawyers education, experience, areas of practice, and contact information, or provides legal information of general interest. Such a person communicates information unilaterally to a lawyer without any reasonable expectation that a client-lawyer relationship will be established, and is thus not a prospective client. A person who participates in an initial consultation, or communicates information, with the intent to disqualify a lawyer from representing a client with materially adverse interests is not entitled to the protections of paragraphs (b) or (c) of this Rule. A persons intent to disqualify may be inferred from the circumstances.
(3) It is often necessary for a prospective client to reveal information to the lawyer during an initial consultation prior to the decision about formation of a client-lawyer relationship. The lawyer often must learn such information to determine whether there is a conflict of interest with an existing client and whether the matter is one that the lawyer is willing to undertake. Paragraph (b) prohibits the lawyer from using or revealing significantly harmful information, except as permitted by Rule 1.9, even if the client or lawyer decides not to proceed with the representation. The duty exists regardless of how brief the initial conference may be.
(4) In order to avoid acquiring disqualifying information from a prospective client, a lawyer considering whether or not to undertake a new matter should limit the initial consultation to only such information as reasonably appears necessary for that purpose. Where the information indicates that a conflict of interest or other reason for non-representation exists, the lawyer should so inform the prospective client or decline the representation. If the prospective client wishes to retain the lawyer, and if consent is possible under Rule 1.7, then consent from all affected present or former clients must be obtained before accepting the representation.
(5) A lawyer may condition a consultation with a prospective client on the persons informed consent that no information disclosed during the consultation will prohibit the lawyer from representing a different client in the matter. See Rule 1.0(e) for the definition of informed consent. If the agreement expressly so provides, the prospective client may also consent to the lawyers subsequent use of information received from the prospective client.
(6) Even in the absence of an agreement, under paragraph (c) the lawyer is not prohibited from representing a client with interests adverse to those of the prospective client in the same or a substantially related matter unless the lawyer has received from the prospective client information that could be significantly harmful if used in the matter.
(7) Under paragraph (c), the prohibition in this Rule is imputed to other lawyers as provided in Rule 1.10, but, under paragraph (d)(1), imputation may be avoided if the lawyer obtains the informed consent of both the prospective and affected clients. In the alternative, imputation may be avoided if the conditions of paragraph (d)(2) are met and all disqualified lawyers are timely screened and written notice is promptly given to the prospective client. See Rule 1.0(k) (requirements for screening procedures). Paragraph (d)(2)(ii) does not prohibit the screened lawyer from receiving a salary or partnership share established by prior independent agreement, but that lawyer may not receive compensation directly related to the matter in which the lawyer is disqualified.
(8) Notice, including a description of the screened lawyers prior representation and of the screening procedures employed, generally should be given as soon as practicable after the need for screening becomes apparent.
(9) For the duty of competence of a lawyer who gives assistance on the merits of a matter to a prospective client, see Rule 1.1. For a lawyers duties when a prospective client entrusts valuables or papers to the lawyers care, see Rule 1.15.
The provisions of this Rule 1.18 amended October 22, 2013, effective in 30 days, 43 Pa.B. 6641. Immediately preceding text appears at serial pages (343163) to (343164) and (361483).
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