The Importance of Knowing Who Is, and Who Is Not, Your Client
Neil J. Wertlieb
Neil J. Wertlieb is an experienced transactional lawyer, educator, and ethicist, who provides expert witness services in disputes involving either business transactions and corporate governance or attorney malpractice and attorney ethics. He is a Founding Member and Co-Chair of the California Lawyers Association Ethics Committee. For additional information, see www.WertliebLaw.com.
Lawyers must be able to identify who is, and who is not, their client to comply with their professional obligations. Lawyers owe fiduciary duties to their clients,1 including the duties of loyalty and confidentiality, which the California Supreme Court considers to be the most fundamental qualities of the attorney-client relationship.2 These duties to the client are embodied in the California Rules of Professional Conduct (the "Rule(s)"), most notably in Rule 1.6 (Confidential Information of a Client) and Rule 1.7 (Conflict of Interest: Current Clients).
Rule 1.6, together with California Business and Professions Code section 6068(e)(1), obligates a lawyer "to maintain inviolate the confidence, and at every peril to himself or herself to preserve the secrets, of his or her client,"3 "unless the client gives informed consent."4 To comply with this mandate, a lawyer must be able to identify his or her client to ensure whose confidences and secrets are to be protected, and to ensure that the proper person authorizes any disclosure of such information.5