From the ABA Journal: “Opinion makes confidentiality exception for ‘generally known’ info”

Here are my thoughts on the new Formal Opinion 479 from the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility offering guidance about what constitutes “generally known” information under ABA Model Rule 1.9, as published in the March 2018 issue of the ABA Journal.

“I agree that this definition makes sense, though I don’t think it necessarily resolves what is generally known in every instance,” says Renee N. Knake, who teaches legal ethics at the University of Houston Law Center and recently co-wrote Professional Responsibility: A Contemporary Approach. “Inevitably gray areas will arise, but I do think that the opinion offers helpful guidance as to what may constitute ‘generally known.’ ”

She says questions remain as to what “minimum threshold of publications” are necessary to establish that the information is generally known.

“What about other sources, such as a public survey or opinion poll?” she says. Regarding wide recognition in the former client’s industry or profession, Knake asks whether it is “possible to rely as well on expert opinions.”

Further, “information that is publicly available is not necessarily generally known,” the opinion reads. “Certainly, if information is publicly available but requires specialized knowledge or expertise to locate, it is not generally known within the meaning of Model Rule 1.9(c)(1).”

“The opinion is striving to achieve a balance here,” Knake says. “Defining ‘generally known’ to include any public record would address the gray area problem, but it doesn’t sufficiently protect the sort of information contemplated under the umbrella of confidentiality afforded by Model Rule 1.9.”

Model Rule 1.9(c)(2) prohibits a lawyer from “revealing information about a former client,” Knake says. “The difference between ‘reveal’ versus ‘use’ is significant, and the lawyer may only use a public record that has otherwise been revealed by another source and spread widely.”

You can read the full article here:









District Court Creates Guide for Attorney-Client Privilege in the Corporate Context

Law students and lawyers alike often go down the rabbit hole when considering what is and is not attorney-client privilege communications in the corporate context. On February 23, 2018, Judge Michael M. Baylson of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania released an order in SodexoMagic LLC v. Drexel University that sets out a set of hypotheticals for the parties to determine when privilege exists.  He comprised this set of hypotheticals after reviewing 50 documents in camera submitted by the parties as samples of disputed claims of privilege.

This court order is an extremely valuable resource for explaining privileged communications that can be withheld from production, and those that are not.  The challenged communications involved internal emails within the two corporations.  Some of the emails were between corporate counsel and employees of the corporation, and some were between others working with the corporate attorneys acting on their behalf.  When the corporate attorneys or their subordinates, such as paralegals, were providing legal advice, the privilege applied.  When the lawyers or their subordinates were “acting in a purely ‘scrivner-like’ role, their emails and documents (including draft agreements) are themselves not privileged communications.”  Judge Baylson then proceeds to analyze 13 of the emails and documents and explains which are and are not covered by attorney-client privilege.

This is a great order to review attorney-client privilege, and one that will make it into the next edition of Professional Responsibility: A Contemporary Approach!