The Florida Bar

A legal services organization may provide certain types of information to a county funding agency only with the consent of the respective clients of the organization.

CPR: EC 4-3, DR 4-101(A), (B), (C), (D); Canon 4

Vice Chairman Mead stated the opinion of the committee:

The issue presented is the type of information a legal services organization may be required to furnish to a county funding agency.

DR 4-101(B)(1) states that, except as permitted under DR 4-101(C) and (D), a lawyer shall not knowingly reveal a confidence or secret of his client. DR 4-101(A) defines "confidence" as information protected by the attorney-client privilege under applicable law, and "secret" as other information gained in the professional relationship that the client has requested be held inviolate or the disclosure of which would be embarrassing or would be likely to be detrimental to the client. DR 4-101(C) permits the lawyer to reveal confidences or secrets only with the consent of the client and only after full disclosure. The Code of Professional Responsibility makes no distinction between a legal aid office and a private law office, and attorneys employed by a legal services organization must preserve the confidences and secrets of their clients to the same extent as any other attorney. Although we cannot make a determination as to what constitutes a "confidence" in a particular case, as deciding what is privileged is a matter of law, information gathered from a client by a legal aid office is likely to consist of "confidences" and "secrets," as defined above, and in such instances a legal aid office must comply with Canon 4.

We note that EC 4-3 allows an attorney to "give limited information from his files to an outside agency necessary for statistical, bookkeeping, accounting, data processing, banking, printing or other legitimate purposes," but only if the client does not otherwise direct. The consent of the client, then, remains the key. Accordingly, it is our opinion that if the legal services organization advises the client that certain specific information will be divulged to an outside agency, and receives from that client written authorization for such disclosure, the transmittal of information-strictly limited to the data for which consent has been received-would be permitted.

[Revised: 08-24-2011]