Remember: A Law Office Is Strictly Bound by the Laws and Rules of Confidentiality.
Setting the scene for this discussion on confidentiality is the fact that we often receive calls from children, neighbors, financial planners, mortgage brokers, and other associates of our clients inquiring about a client’s trust or other matters related to the trust. Problem is, without express written authorization directly from the client we are strictly prohibited from discussing any matters, proceedings, documentation or revealing any information regarding a client’s meeting or trust documentation no matter who you are or what your relationship is with the client.
These inquiries range from requesting information about the trust file, provisions of the trust, and obtaining a full copy of the trust. Sometimes these requests are made for quick answers or expediency. Other times it is children who are trying to help their elderly, failing or incapacitated parents. It can also be other associates trying to assist in matters or obtain needed information on the client’s behalf.
As is often the case , these requests are made under very, very difficult, trying, or even emergency circumstances wherein close family members are searching for what they perceive as needed paperwork or documents they can’t easily locate (Power of Attorney, Health Care Directives, Trusts, Amendments, Asset Information, etc.).
We do understand that in the majority of cases these requests are made with only the best of intentions. Typically, helpful family members are simply trying to come up to speed on someone’s affairs with little or no information. In striving for a solution or answer under stressful circumstances we realize it’s easy to forget the rules of confidentiality we must follow as a law office.
Yet regardless of the intentions, situation, or circumstances, as a law office we are still strictly bound by these rules of confidentiality.
While there are those who immediately grasp that we must strictly adhere to these rules there are yet others who often remain persistent. Though we have the greatest of sympathy for those who are caught in these difficult situations please let it sink in that confidentiality is not an option that we can waive at our discretion – period.
So for those who think we can bend this rule we must reiterate that without express written authorization directly from the client we are strictly prohibited from discussing any matters, proceedings, documentation or revealing any information regarding a client’s meeting or trust documentation no matter who you are or what your relationship is with the client. Even if the trust documents have been stolen or hidden by another family member, beneficiary, or some other person we cannot break confidentiality. (We will not involve ourselves in a dispute among family members.) We therefore respectfully ask that no one persist in asking us to break a rule that we can’t and won’t.
To add to your understanding some short passages out of the rules of professional conduct regarding this include:
….it is a duty of a member: “To maintain inviolate the confidence, and at every peril to himself or herself to preserve the secrets, of his or her client.” A member’s duty to preserve the confidentiality of client information involves public policies of paramount importance….
The principle of client-lawyer confidentiality applies to information relating to the representation, whatever its source, and encompasses matters communicated… by the client, and therefore protected by the attorney-client privilege, matters protected by the work product doctrine, and matters protected under ethical standards of confidentiality, all as established in law, rule and policy.
Again, while you may have our sympathy, confidentiality is not an option that we can waive at our discretion no matter what the circumstance.
So please, , do not ask us to reveal any information or supply you with copies of the trust or any other documentation or information unless you are the actual client who completed and signed the trust (or unless we have been directly authorized by our client). Thank you.