6.05 Conflict of Interest Exceptions for Nonprofit and Limited Pro Bono Legal Services
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(a) The conflicts of interest limitations on representation in Rules 1.06, 1.07, and 1.09 do not prohibit a lawyer from providing, or offering to provide, limited pro bono legal services unless the lawyer knows, at the time the services are provided, that the lawyer would be prohibited by those limitations from providing the services.
(b) Lawyers in a firm with a lawyer providing, or offering to provide, limited pro bono legal services shall not be prohibited by the imputation provisions of Rules 1.06, 1.07, and 1.09 from representing a client if that lawyer does not:
(1) disclose confidential information of the pro bono client to the lawyers in the firm; or
(2) maintain such information in a manner that would render it accessible to the lawyers in the firm.
(c) The eligibility information that an applicant is required to provide when applying for free legal services or limited pro bono legal services from a program described in subparagraph (d)(1) by itself will not create a conflict of interest if:
(1) the eligibility information is not material to the legal matter; or
(2) the applicant’s provision of the eligibility information was conditioned on the applicant’s informed consent that providing this information would not by itself prohibit a representation of another client adverse to the applicant.
(d) As used in this Rule, “limited pro bono legal services” means legal services that are:
(1) provided through a pro bono or assisted pro se program sponsored by a court, bar association, accredited law school, or nonprofit legal services program; 89
(2) short-term services such as legal advice or other brief assistance with pro se documents or transactions, provided either in person or by phone, hotline, internet, or video conferencing; and
(3) provided without any expectation of extended representation of the limited assistance client or of receiving any legal fees in that matter.
(e) As used in this Rule, a lawyer is not “in a firm” with other lawyers solely because the lawyer provides limited pro bono legal services with the other lawyers.
1. Nonprofit legal services organizations, courts, law schools, and bar associations have programs through which lawyers provide short-term limited legal services typically to help low-income persons address their legal problems without further representation by the lawyers. In these programs, such as legal-advice hotlines, advice-only clinics, disaster legal services, or programs providing guidance to self-represented litigants, a client-lawyer relationship is established, but there is no expectation that the relationship will continue beyond the limited consultation and there is no expectation that the lawyer will receive any compensation from the client for the services. These programs are normally operated under circumstances in which it is not feasible for a lawyer to check for conflicts of interest as is normally required before undertaking a representation.
2. Application of the conflict of interest rules has deterred lawyers from participating in these programs, preventing persons of limited means from obtaining much needed legal services. To facilitate the provision of free legal services to the public, this Rule creates narrow exceptions to the conflict of interest rules for limited pro bono legal services. These exceptions are justified because the limited and short-term nature of the legal services rendered in such programs reduces the risk that conflicts of interest will arise between clients represented through the program and other clients of the lawyer or the lawyer’s firm. Other than the limited exceptions set forth in this Rule, a lawyer remains subject to all applicable conflict of interest rules.
Scope of Representation
3. A lawyer who provides services pursuant to this Rule should secure the client’s consent to the limited scope of the representation after explaining to the client what that means in the particular circumstance. See Rule 1.02(b). If a short-term limited representation would not be fully sufficient under the circumstances, the lawyer may offer advice to the client but should also advise the client of the need for further assistance of counsel. See Rule 1.03(b).
Conflicts and the Lawyer Providing Limited Pro Bono Legal Services
4. Paragraph (a) exempts compliance with Rules 1.06, 1.07, and 1.09 for a lawyer providing limited pro bono legal services unless the lawyer actually knows that the representation presents a conflict of interest for the lawyer or for another lawyer in the lawyer’s firm. A lawyer providing limited pro bono legal services is not obligated to perform a conflicts check before undertaking the limited representation. If, after commencing a representation in 90 accordance with this Rule, a lawyer undertakes to represent the client in the matter on an ongoing basis or the lawyer charges a fee for the legal assistance, the exceptions provided by this Rule no longer apply.
Imputation of Conflicts
5. Paragraph (b) provides that a conflict of interest arising from a lawyer’s representation covered by this Rule will not be imputed to the lawyers in the pro bono lawyer’s firm if the pro bono lawyer complies with subparagraphs (b)(1) and (2).
6. To prevent a conflict of interest arising from limited pro bono legal services from being imputed to the other lawyers in the firm, subparagraph (b)(1) requires that the pro bono lawyer not disclose to any lawyer in the firm any confidential information related to the pro bono representation.
7. Subparagraph (b)(2) covers the retention of documents or other memorialization of confidential information, such as the pro bono lawyer’s notes, whether in paper or electronic form. To prevent imputation, a pro bono lawyer who retains confidential information is required by subparagraph (b)(2) to segregate and store it in such a way that no other lawyer in the pro bono lawyer’s firm can access it, either physically or electronically.
8. Paragraph (c) recognizes the unusual and uniquely sensitive personal information that applicants for free legal assistance may be required to provide. Organizations that receive funding to provide free legal assistance to low-income clients are generally required, as a condition of their funding, to screen the applicants for eligibility and to document eligibility for services paid for by those funding sources. Unlike other lawyers, law firms, and legal departments, these organizations ask for confidential information to determine an applicant’s eligibility for free legal assistance and are required to maintain records of such eligibility determinations for potential audit by their funding sources. Required eligibility information typically includes income, asset values, marital status, citizenship or immigration status, and other facts the applicant may consider sensitive.
9. The first situation where the paragraph (c) exception is available is where none of the eligibility information is material to an issue in the legal matter. Alternatively, under subparagraph (c)(2), if the applicant provided confidential information after giving informed consent that the eligibility information would not prohibit the persons or entities identified in the consent from representing any other present or future client, then the eligibility information alone will not prohibit the representation. The lawyer should document the receipt of such informed consent, though a formal writing is not required. What constitutes informed consent is discussed in the comments to Rule 1.06.
10. Rule 1.05 continues to apply to the use or disclosure of all confidential information provided during an intake interview. Similarly, Rule 1.09 continues to apply to the representation of a person in a matter adverse to the applicant. Notably, Rule 1.05(c)(2) permits a lawyer to use or disclose information provided during an intake interview if the applicant consents after consultation to such use or disclosure, and Rule 1.09(a) excludes from 91 its restrictions the representation of a person adverse to the applicant in the same or a substantially related matter if the applicant consents to such a representation.
Limited Pro Bono Legal Service Programs
11. This Rule applies only to services offered through a program that meets one of the descriptions in subparagraph (d)(1), regardless of the nature and amount of support provided. Some programs may be jointly sponsored by more than one of the listed sponsor types.
12. The second element of “limited pro bono legal services,” set forth in subparagraph (d)(2), is designed to ensure that the services offered are so limited in time and scope that there is little risk that conflicts will arise between clients represented through the program and other clients of the lawyer or the lawyer’s firm.
13. The third element of the definition, set forth in subparagraph (d)(3), is that the services are offered and provided without any expectation of either extended representation or the collection of legal fees in the matter. Before agreeing to proceed in the representation beyond “limited pro bono legal services,” the lawyer should evaluate the potential conflicts of interest that may arise from the representation as with any other representation. Likewise, the exceptions in paragraphs (a) and (b) do not apply if the lawyer expects to collect any legal fees in the limited assistance matter.
14. Lawyers are not deemed to be part of the same firm simply because they volunteer through the same pro bono program. Nor will the personal prohibition of a lawyer participating in a pro bono program be imputed to other lawyers participating in the program solely by reason of that volunteer connection.