It is well known that a client, or even a potential client, enjoys confidentiality when discussing his or her Family Court case with their attorney. However, there are exceptions to this rule.
Per the R.I. Rule of Professional Conduct 1.6, an attorney need not necessarily retain a client’s confidences if:
1. The client gives informed consent allowing the lawyer to disclose certain information. The most common example of this in a Family Court consultation is when a potential client brings a loved one or trusted friend to the initial consultation with them, usually as emotional support. In this scenario, it is implied that the attorney has informed consent from the client to discuss the facts and issues in the case with the confidante, at least for the length of the consultation.
2. The client has disclosed information regarding an ongoing, continued criminal act, or a future criminal act that may result in death or substantial bodily harm. Notice that not just any crime will do. So-called “white collar” crimes are safe! While it is rare for this type of criminal conduct to come up in a Family Court consult, often these initial conversations will detail the health, safety, and well-being of a child and may require an attorney to contact child services. In my experience this is quite rare, though I have had occasion to counsel a client to contact child services himself or herself if I reasonably believed a child was at risk.
3. The information disclosed is necessary for the attorney to DEFEND a criminal, civil or disciplinary action (sometimes brought by the client themselves). Don’t sue your attorney! If you do, those highly sensitive conversations you had may be brought to light.
4. If remaining silent and protecting the client’s confidences would violate a Court Order or other law.
If you believe that any of these do or may apply to you in an initial consult prior to retaining an attorney or throughout the legal process thereafter, beware. Depending upon which attorney you choose and what situation you are in, your confidential discussion may be subject to outside scrutiny. The attorney may be allowed to, or may be Ordered / compelled to disclose some or all of that you thought was confidential.
Finally, if you share a child with someone please, PLEASE, do not refer to the child as “my child”. It is “our child”. Always our child. The judges cringe at that “my” word. Trust us.