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RULE 19-301.7. CONFLICT OF INTEREST--GENERAL RULE (1.7)

West's Annotated Code of MarylandMaryland Rules

West's Annotated Code of Maryland
Maryland Rules
Title 19. Attorneys
Chapter 300. Maryland Attorneys' Rules of Professional Conduct
Client-Attorney Relationship [Rules 19-301.1 to 19-301.18]
MD Rules Attorneys, Rule 19-301.7
RULE 19-301.7. CONFLICT OF INTEREST--GENERAL RULE (1.7)
(a) Except as provided in section (b) of this Rule, an attorney shall not represent a client if the representation involves a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest exists if:
(1) the representation of one client will be directly adverse to another client; or
(2) there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the attorney's responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or by a personal interest of the attorney.
(b) Notwithstanding the existence of a conflict of interest under section (a) of this Rule, an attorney may represent a client if:
(1) the attorney reasonably believes that the attorney will be able to provide competent and diligent representation to each affected client;
(2) the representation is not prohibited by law;
(3) the representation does not involve the assertion of a claim by one client against another client represented by the attorney in the same litigation or other proceeding before a tribunal; and
(4) each affected client gives informed consent, confirmed in writing.
COMMENT
General Principles--[1] Loyalty and independent judgment are essential elements in the attorney's relationship to a client. Conflicts of interest can arise from the attorney's responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or from the attorney's own interests. For specific Rules regarding certain conflicts of interest, see Rule 19-301.8 (1.8). For former client conflicts of interest, see Rule 19-301.9 (1.9). For conflicts of interest involving prospective clients, see Rule 19-301.18 (1.18). For definitions of “informed consent” and “confirmed in writing,” see Rule 19-301.0 (f) and (b) (1.0).
[2] Resolution of a conflict of interest problem under this Rule requires the attorney to: (1) clearly identify the client or clients; (2) determine whether a conflict of interest exists; (3) decide whether the representation may be undertaken despite the existence of a conflict, i.e., whether the conflict is consentable; and (4) if so, consult with the clients affected under section (a) of this Rule and obtain their informed consent, confirmed in writing. The clients affected under section (a) of this Rule include both of the clients referred to in subsection (a)(1) of this Rule and the one or more clients whose representation might be materially limited under subsection (a)(2) of this Rule.
[3] A conflict of interest may exist before representation is undertaken, in which event the representation must be declined, unless the attorney obtains the informed consent of each client under the conditions of section (b) of this Rule. To determine whether a conflict of interest exists, an attorney should adopt reasonable procedures, appropriate for the size and type of firm and practice, to determine in both litigation and non-litigation matters the persons and issues involved. See also Comment to Rule 19-305.1 (5.1). Ignorance caused by a failure to institute such procedures will not excuse an attorney's violation of this Rule. As to whether a client-attorney relationship exists or, having once been established, is continuing, see Comment to Rule 19-301.3 (1.3) and Scope.
[4] If a conflict arises after representation has been undertaken, the attorney ordinarily must withdraw from the representation, unless the attorney has obtained the informed consent of the client under the conditions of section (b) of this Rule. See Rule 19-301.16 (1.16). Where more than one client is involved, whether the attorney may continue to represent any of the clients is determined both by the attorney's ability to comply with duties owed to the former client and by the attorney's ability to represent adequately the remaining client or clients, given the attorney's duties to the former client. See Rule 19-301.9 (1.9). See also Comments [5] and [29].
[5] Unforeseeable developments, such as changes in corporate and other organizational affiliations or the addition or realignment of parties in litigation, might create conflicts in the midst of a representation, as when a company sued by the attorney on behalf of one client is bought by another client represented by the attorney in an unrelated matter. Depending on the circumstances, the attorney may have the option to withdraw from one of the representations in order to avoid the conflict. The attorney must seek court approval where necessary and take steps to minimize harm to the clients. See Rule 19-301.16 (1.16). The attorney must continue to protect the confidences of the client from whose representation the attorney has withdrawn. See Rule 19-301.9 (c) (1.9).
Identifying Conflicts of Interest: Directly Adverse--[6] Loyalty to a current client prohibits undertaking representation directly adverse to that client without that client's informed consent. Thus, absent consent, an attorney may not act as an advocate in one matter against a person the attorney represents in some other matter, even when the matters are wholly unrelated. The client as to whom the representation is directly adverse is likely to feel betrayed, and the resulting damage to the client-attorney relationship is likely to impair the attorney's ability to represent the client effectively. In addition, the client on whose behalf the adverse representation is undertaken reasonably may fear that the attorney will pursue that client's case less effectively out of deference to the other client, i.e., that the representation may be materially limited by the attorney's interest in retaining the current client. Similarly, a directly adverse conflict may arise when an attorney is required to cross-examine a client who appears as a witness in a lawsuit involving another client, as when the testimony will be damaging to the client who is represented in the lawsuit. On the other hand, simultaneous representation in unrelated matters of clients whose interests are only economically adverse, such as representation of competing economic enterprises in unrelated litigation, does not ordinarily constitute a conflict of interest and thus may not require consent of the respective clients.
[7] Directly adverse conflicts can also arise in transactional matters. For example, if an attorney is asked to represent the seller of a business in negotiations with a buyer represented by the attorney, not in the same transaction but in another, unrelated matter, the attorney could not undertake the representation without the informed consent of each client.
Identifying Conflicts of Interest: Material Limitation--[8] Even where there is no direct adverseness, a conflict of interest exists if there is a significant risk that an attorney's ability to consider, recommend or carry out an appropriate course of action for the client will be materially limited as a result of the attorney's other responsibilities or interests. For example, an attorney asked to represent several individuals seeking to form a joint venture is likely to be materially limited in the attorney's ability to recommend or advocate all possible positions that each might take because of the attorney's duty of loyalty to the others. The conflict in effect forecloses alternatives that would otherwise be available to the client. The mere possibility of subsequent harm does not itself require disclosure and consent. The critical questions are the likelihood that a difference in interests will eventuate and, if it does, whether it will materially interfere with the attorney's independent professional judgment in considering alternatives or foreclose courses of action that reasonably should be pursued on behalf of the client.
Attorney's Responsibilities to Former Clients and Other Third Persons--[9] In addition to conflicts with other current clients, an attorney's duties of loyalty and independence may be materially limited by responsibilities to former clients under Rule 19-301.9 (1.9) or by the attorney's responsibilities to other persons, such as fiduciary duties arising from an attorney's service as a trustee, executor or corporate director.
Personal Interest Conflicts--[10] The attorney's own interests should not be permitted to have an adverse effect on representation of a client. For example, if the probity of an attorney's own conduct in a transaction is in serious question, it may be difficult or impossible for the attorney to give a client detached advice. Similarly, when an attorney has discussions concerning possible employment with an opponent of the attorney's client, or with a law firm representing the opponent, such discussions could materially limit the attorney's representation of the client. In addition, an attorney may not allow related business interests to affect representation, for example, by referring clients to an enterprise in which the attorney has an undisclosed financial interest. See Rule 19-301.8 (1.8) for specific Rules pertaining to a number of personal interest conflicts, including business transactions with clients. See also Rule 19-301.10 (1.10) (personal interest conflicts under Rule 19-301.7 (1.7) ordinarily are not imputed to other attorneys in a law firm).
[11] When attorneys representing different clients in the same matter or in substantially related matters are closely related by blood or marriage, there may be a significant risk that client confidences will be revealed and that the attorney's family relationship will interfere with both loyalty and independent professional judgment. As a result, each client is entitled to know of the existence and implications of the relationship between the attorneys before the attorney agrees to undertake the representation. Thus, an attorney related to another attorney, e.g., as parent, child, sibling or spouse, ordinarily may not represent a client in a matter where that attorney is representing another party, unless each client gives informed consent. The disqualification arising from a close family relationship is personal and ordinarily is not imputed to members of firms with whom the attorneys are associated. See Rule 19-301.10 (1.10).
[12] A sexual relationship with a client, whether or not in violation of criminal law, will create an impermissible conflict between the interests of the client and those of the attorney if (1) the representation of the client would be materially limited by the sexual relationship and (2) it is unreasonable for the attorney to believe the attorney can provide competent and diligent representation. Under those circumstances, informed consent by the client is ineffective. See also Rule 19-308.4 (8.4).
Interest of Person Paying for an Attorney's Service--[13] An attorney may be paid from a source other than the client, including a co-client, if the client is informed of that fact and consents and the arrangement does not compromise the attorney's duty of loyalty or independent judgment to the client. See Rule 19-301.8 (f) (1.8). If acceptance of the payment from any other source presents a significant risk that the attorney's representation of the client will be materially limited by the attorney's own interest in accommodating the person paying the attorney's fee or by the attorney's responsibilities to a payer who is also a co-client, then the attorney must comply with the requirements of section (b) of this Rule before accepting the representation, including determining whether the conflict is consentable and, if so, that the client has adequate information about the material risks of the representation.
Prohibited Representations--[14] Ordinarily, clients may consent to representation notwithstanding a conflict. However, as indicated in section (b) of this Rule, some conflicts are nonconsentable, meaning that the attorney involved cannot properly ask for such agreement or provide representation on the basis of the client's consent. When the attorney is representing more than one client, the question of consentability must be resolved as to each client.
[15] Consentability is typically determined by considering whether the interests of the clients will be adequately protected if the clients are permitted to give their informed consent to representation burdened by a conflict of interest. Thus, under subsection (b)(1) of this Rule, representation is prohibited if in the circumstances the attorney cannot reasonably conclude that the attorney will be able to provide competent and diligent representation. See Rule 19-301.1 (1.1) (Competence) and Rule 19-301.3 (1.3) (Diligence).
[16] Subsection (b)(2) of this Rule describes conflicts that are nonconsentable because the representation is prohibited by applicable law. For example, in some states substantive law provides that the same attorney may not represent more than one defendant in a capital case, even with the consent of the clients, and under federal criminal statutes certain representations by a former government attorney are prohibited, despite the informed consent of the former client. In addition, decisional law in some states limits the ability of a governmental client, such as a municipality, to consent to a conflict of interest.
[17] Subsection (b)(3) of this Rule describes conflicts that are nonconsentable because of the institutional interest in vigorous development of each client's position when the clients are aligned directly against each other in the same litigation or other proceeding before a tribunal. Whether clients are aligned directly against each other within the meaning of this subsection requires examination of the context of the proceeding. Although this subsection does not preclude an attorney's multiple representation of adverse parties to a mediation (because mediation is not a proceeding before a “tribunal” under Rule 19-301.0 (o) (1.0)), such representation may be precluded by subsection (b)(1) of this Rule.
Informed Consent--[18] Informed consent requires that each affected client be aware of the relevant circumstances and of the material and reasonably foreseeable ways that the conflict could have adverse effects on the interests of that client. See Rule 19-301.0 (f) (1.0) (informed consent). The information required depends on the nature of the conflict and the nature of the risks involved. When representation of multiple clients in a single matter is undertaken, the information must include the implications of the common representation, including possible effects on loyalty, confidentiality and the attorney-client privilege and the advantages and risks involved. See Comments [30] and [31] (effect of common representation on confidentiality).
[19] Under some circumstances it may be impossible to make the disclosure necessary to obtain consent. For example, when the attorney represents different clients in related matters and one of the clients refuses to consent to the disclosure necessary to permit the other client to make an informed decision, the attorney cannot properly ask the latter to consent. In some cases the alternative to common representation can be that each party may have to obtain separate representation with the possibility of incurring additional costs. These costs, along with the benefits of securing separate representation, are factors that may be considered by the affected client in determining whether common representation is in the client's interests.
Consent Confirmed in Writing--[20] Section (b) of this Rule requires the attorney to obtain the informed consent of the client, confirmed in writing. Such a writing may consist of a document executed by the client or one that the attorney promptly records and transmits to the client following an oral consent. See Rule 19-301.0 (b) (1.0). See also Rule 19-301.0 (p) (1.0) (writing includes electronic transmission). If it is not feasible to obtain or transmit the writing at the time the client gives informed consent, then the attorney must obtain or transmit it within a reasonable time thereafter. See Rule 19-301.0 (b) (1.0). The requirement of a writing does not supplant the need in most cases for the attorney to talk with the client, to explain the risks and advantages, if any, of representation burdened with a conflict of interest, as well as reasonably available alternatives, and to afford the client a reasonable opportunity to consider the risks and alternatives and to raise questions and concerns. Rather, the writing is required in order to impress upon clients the seriousness of the decision the client is being asked to make and to avoid disputes or ambiguities that might later occur in the absence of a writing.
Revoking Consent--[21] A client who has given consent to a conflict may revoke the consent and, like any other client, may terminate the attorney's representation at any time. Whether revoking consent to the client's own representation precludes the attorney from continuing to represent other clients depends on the circumstances, including the nature of the conflict, whether the client revoked consent because of a material change in circumstances, the reasonable expectations of the other client and whether material detriment to the other clients or the attorney would result.
Consent to Future Conflict--[22] Whether an attorney may properly request a client to waive conflicts that might arise in the future is subject to the test of section (b) of this Rule. The effectiveness of such waivers is generally determined by the extent to which the client reasonably understands the material risks that the waiver entails. The more comprehensive the explanation of the types of future representations that might arise and the actual and reasonably foreseeable adverse consequences of those representations, the greater the likelihood that the client will have the requisite understanding. Thus, if the client agrees to consent to a particular type of conflict with which the client is already familiar, then the consent ordinarily will be effective with regard to that type of conflict. If the consent is general and open-ended, then the consent ordinarily will be ineffective, because it is not reasonably likely that the client will have understood the material risks involved. On the other hand, if the client is an experienced user of the legal services involved and is reasonably informed regarding the risk that a conflict may arise, such consent is more likely to be effective, particularly if, e.g., the client is independently represented by another attorney in giving consent and the consent is limited to future conflicts unrelated to the subject of the representation. In any case, advance consent cannot be effective if the circumstances that materialize in the future are such as would make the conflict nonconsentable under section (b).
Conflicts in Litigation--[23] Subsection (b)(3) of this Rule prohibits representation of opposing parties in the same litigation, regardless of the clients' consent. On the other hand, simultaneous representation of parties whose interests in litigation may conflict, such as coplaintiffs or codefendants, is governed by subsection (a)(2) of this Rule. A conflict may exist by reason of substantial discrepancy in the parties' testimony, incompatibility in positions in relation to an opposing party or the fact that there are substantially different possibilities of settlement of the claims or liabilities in question. Such conflicts can arise in criminal cases as well as civil. The potential for conflict of interest in representing multiple defendants in a criminal case is so grave that ordinarily an attorney should decline to represent more than one codefendant. On the other hand, common representation of persons having similar interests in civil litigation is proper if the requirements of section (b) of this Rule are met.
[24] Ordinarily an attorney may take inconsistent legal positions in different tribunals at different times on behalf of different clients. The mere fact that advocating a legal position on behalf of one client might create precedent adverse to the interests of a client represented by the attorney in an unrelated matter does not create a conflict of interest. A conflict of interest exists, however, if there is a significant risk that an attorney's action on behalf of one client will materially limit the attorney's effectiveness in representing another client in a different case; for example, when a decision favoring one client will create a precedent likely to seriously weaken the position taken on behalf of the other client. Factors relevant in determining whether the clients need to be advised of the risk include: where the cases are pending, whether the issue is substantive or procedural, the temporal relationship between the matters, the significance of the issue to the immediate and long-term interests of the clients involved and the clients' reasonable expectations in retaining the attorney. If there is significant risk of material limitation, then absent informed consent of the affected clients, the attorney must refuse one of the representations or withdraw from one or both matters.
[25] When an attorney represents or seeks to represent a class of plaintiffs or defendants in a class-action lawsuit, unnamed members of the class are ordinarily not considered to be clients of the attorney for purposes of applying subsection (a)(1) of this Rule. Thus, the attorney does not typically need to get the consent of such a person before representing a client suing the person in an unrelated matter. Similarly, an attorney seeking to represent an opponent in a class action does not typically need the consent of an unnamed member of the class whom the attorney represents in an unrelated matter.
Nonlitigation Conflicts--[26] Conflicts of interest under subsections (a)(1) and (a)(2) of this Rule arise in contexts other than litigation. For a discussion of directly adverse conflicts in transactional matters, see Comment [7]. Relevant factors in determining whether there is significant potential for material limitation include the duration and intimacy of the attorney's relationship with the client or clients involved, the functions being performed by the attorney, the likelihood that disagreements will arise and the likely prejudice to the client from the conflict. The question is often one of proximity and degree. See Comment [8].
[27] For example, conflict questions may arise in estate planning and estate administration. An attorney may be called upon to prepare wills for several family members, such as husband and wife, and, depending upon the circumstances, a conflict of interest may be present. In estate administration the identity of the client may be unclear under the law of a particular jurisdiction. Under one view, the client is the fiduciary; under another view the client is the estate or trust, including its beneficiaries. In order to comply with conflict of interest rules, the attorney should make clear the attorney's relationship to the parties involved.
[28] Whether a conflict is consentable depends on the circumstances. For example, an attorney may not represent multiple parties to a negotiation whose interests are fundamentally antagonistic to each other, but common representation is permissible where the clients are generally aligned in interest even though there is some difference in interest among them. Thus, an attorney may seek to establish or adjust a relationship between clients on an amicable and mutually advantageous basis; for example, in helping to organize a business in which two or more clients are entrepreneurs, working out the financial reorganization of an enterprise in which two or more clients have an interest or arranging a property distribution in settlement of an estate. The attorney seeks to resolve potentially adverse interests by developing the parties' mutual interests. Otherwise, each party might have to obtain separate representation, with the possibility of incurring additional cost, complication or even litigation. Given these and other relevant factors, the clients may prefer that the attorney act for all of them.
Special Considerations in Common Representation--[29] In considering whether to represent multiple clients in the same matter, an attorney should be mindful that if the common representation fails because the potentially adverse interests cannot be reconciled, the result can be additional cost, embarrassment and recrimination. Ordinarily, the attorney will be forced to withdraw from representing all of the clients if the common representation fails. In some situations, the risk of failure is so great that multiple representation is plainly impossible. For example, an attorney cannot undertake common representation of clients where contentious litigation or negotiations between them are imminent or contemplated. Moreover, because the attorney is required to be impartial between commonly represented clients, representation of multiple clients is improper when it is unlikely that impartiality can be maintained. Generally, if the relationship between the parties has already assumed antagonism, the possibility that the clients' interests can be adequately served by common representation is not very good. Other relevant factors are whether the attorney subsequently will represent both parties on a continuing basis and whether the situation involves creating or terminating a relationship between the parties.
[29.1] Rule 19-301.7 (1.7) may not apply to an attorney appointed by a court to serve as a Child's Best Interest Attorney in the same way that it applies to other attorneys. For example, because the Child's Best Interest Attorney is not bound to advocate a client's objective, siblings with conflicting views may not pose a conflict of interest for a Child's Best Interest Attorney, provided that the attorney determines the siblings' best interests to be consistent. A Child's Best Interest Attorney should advocate for the children's best interests and ensure that each child's position is made a part of the record, even if that position is different from the position that the attorney advocates. See Md. Rule 9-205.1 and Appendix to the Maryland Rules: Maryland Guidelines for Practice for Court-appointed Attorneys Representing Children in Cases Involving Child Custody or Child Access.
[30] A particularly important factor in determining the appropriateness of common representation is the effect on client-attorney confidentiality and the attorney-client privilege. With regard to the attorney-client privilege, the prevailing rule is that, as between commonly represented clients, the privilege does not attach. Hence, it must be assumed that if litigation eventuates between the clients, the privilege will not protect any such communications, and the clients should be so advised.
[31] As to the duty of confidentiality, continued common representation will almost certainly be inadequate if one client asks the attorney not to disclose to the other client information relevant to the common representation. This is so because the attorney has an equal duty of loyalty to each client, and each client has the right to be informed of anything bearing on the representation that might affect that client's interests and the right to expect that the attorney will use that information to that client's benefit. See Rule 19-301.4 (1.4). The attorney should, at the outset of the common representation and as part of the process of obtaining each client's informed consent, advise each client that information will be shared and that the attorney will have to withdraw if one client decides that some matter material to the representation should be kept from the other. In limited circumstances, it may be appropriate for the attorney to proceed with the representation when the clients have agreed, after being properly informed, that the attorney will keep certain information confidential. For example, the attorney may reasonably conclude that failure to disclose one client's trade secrets to another client will not adversely affect representation involving a joint venture between the clients and agree to keep that information confidential with the informed consent of both clients.
[32] When seeking to establish or adjust a relationship between clients, the attorney should make clear that the attorney's role is not that of partisanship normally expected in other circumstances and, thus, that the clients may be required to assume greater responsibility for decisions than when each client is separately represented. Any limitations on the scope of the representation made necessary as a result of the common representation should be fully explained to the clients at the outset of the representation. See Rule 19-301.2 (c) (1.2).
[33] Subject to the above limitations, each client in the common representation has the right to loyal and diligent representation and the protection of Rule 19-301.9 (1.9) concerning the obligations to a former client. The client also has the right to discharge the attorney as stated in Rule 19-301.16 (1.16).
Organizational Clients--[34] An attorney who represents a corporation or other organization does not, by virtue of that representation, necessarily represent any constituent or affiliated organization, such as a parent or subsidiary. See Rule 19-301.13 (a) (1.13). Thus, the attorney for an organization is not barred from accepting representation adverse to an affiliate in an unrelated matter, unless the circumstances are such that the affiliate should also be considered a client of the attorney, there is an understanding between the attorney and the organizational client that the attorney will avoid representation adverse to the client's affiliates, or the attorney's obligations to either the organizational client or the new client are likely to limit materially the attorney's representation of the other client.
[35] An attorney for a corporation or other organization who is also a member of its board of directors should determine whether the responsibilities of the two roles may conflict. The attorney may be called on to advise the corporation in matters involving actions of the directors. Consideration should be given to the frequency with which such situations may arise, the potential intensity of the conflict, the effect of the attorney's resignation from the board and the possibility of the corporation's obtaining legal advice from another attorney in such situations. If there is material risk that the dual role will compromise the attorney's independence of professional judgment, the attorney should not serve as a director or should cease to act as the corporation's attorney when conflicts of interest arise. The attorney should advise the other members of the board that in some circumstances matters discussed at board meetings while the attorney is present in the capacity of director might not be protected by the attorney-client privilege and that conflict of interest considerations might require the attorney's recusal as a director or might require the attorney and the attorney's firm to decline representation of the corporation in a matter.
Model Rules Comparison: Rule 19-301.7 (1.7) is substantially similar to the language of the Ethics 2000 Amendments to the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct except for omitting the word “concurrent” in Rule 19-301.7 (1.7) (a) and (b) and Comment [1], and retaining most of existing Maryland language in Comment [12].

Credits

[Adopted June 6, 2016, eff. July 1, 2016.]
MD R Attorneys, Rule 19-301.7, MD R ATTORNEYS Rule 19-301.7
Current with amendments received through December 15, 2019.
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